Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Terminal in Bethlehem

According to the Palestinian Monitoring Group, the Rachel’s Tomb checkpoint at the northern entrance to the city of Bethlehem -- formerly known as Checkpoint 300 -- became operational on the 15th of November in 2005. Now more commonly referred to as “The Terminal” (because it is considered to be one of the most modern checkpoints of its kind), it restricts access to Occupied East Jerusalem from the Bethlehem area, “with crossing permitted only to foreign nationals, Palestinians holding Jerusalem IDs and Palestinian civilians from the West Bank with permits from the Israeli military.”

[Image: "Wall in Bethlehem", by Ben in Beit Jalla, August 18 th ,2006.]

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), an international human rights watch organization launched back in August 2002, reports that Checkpoint 300 is just one of over 600 checkpoints which have been built to control Palestinians when they enter Israel and when they travel around the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

But Checkpoint 300 is notorious, and there is a good peak at it here in this video produced by a dude named Mic. Check it out.

Madeleine Dahl compared it to a cattle slaughter house. Considered one of the most militarized border crossings in all the world, hundreds of people gather every day overnight, waiting to idle in line for hours between multiple checkpoints, through turnstile doors and a maze of metal corridors within the main checkpoint itself; removing belts, shoes, watches – everything; passing through metal detectors, showing and proving the validity of Israeli permits to soldiers behind panes of bullet proof glass, being allowed to pass one day and not the next. Or, as often is the case - being allowed to go to work one morning but not able to return to Bethlehem that same night. Needless to say, jobs are lost, families and cultures are divided - the Palestinian economy is systematically disemboweled by the proliferation of Israeli military checkpoints.

See this earlier post: Bethlehem Prison City Gates

(Video via Bethelehem Bloggers.)

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Slippery Slopes of Chaos

The BBC reports that the US military is soliciting scientists to help develop a new weapon for the “War on Terror” – fake ice.

[Image: Photos: AFP/Denis Sinyakov, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Handou.]

According to the article, the “plastic-like substance” would be used “to force slip-ups from enemies.” Perhaps it’s just the wording, but that sounds like the most absurd thing ever. Not even slip-ups in the figurative sense. We are talking about making the enemy slip up, as in fall cartoon-like flat on their face. Like Al Qaeda would just fall flat on their ass. Of course, DARPA is behind the “polymer ice” that would be designed for hot and arid environments like Iraq and Afghanistan. You can read the full report here.

“Darpa believes a polymer-based compound could replicate the properties of black ice - a thin, translucent slippery coating, typically found on roads in winter - to reduce traction.”

The idea is to landscape “unprecedented situational control” – to “degrade the ability of our adversaries to shoot and chase us.”
So, we are going to turn Baghdad into a city-sized roller rink? Turn Iraqi deserts overnight into synthetic glaciers? Ancient geographies glazed over by Spraylat sheets of artificial black ice?
DARPA’s announcement also indicates a “spray-on reversal agent” that could be treated to boots and tires to prevent friendly forces from sliding around.
But I can see it now: urban battlefields that once raged with machine gun fire will be turned into familial insurgent skate parks, marines will spend more time playing ghetto hockey than training Iraqi forces, and smugglers will quickly figure new inventive ways of scooting their goods from point A to point B much more quickly and now with even lesser chance of detection. Terrorist luges will become the new car bombs; most of Baghdad will become lacquered in this kind of anti-terrorist formaldehyde; and citizens will find it enormously frustrating just to commute to and from work; meanwhile, scores of refugees will be shuffled away to a range of peripheral oblivions that await them.
Iraq will, in short, slip even further down the slippery slopes of perpetual chaos.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Peripheral Milit_Urb 13

"We have missed an opportunity to make people feel welcome," said Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. "The whole process must be friendlier and more efficient. We must invest in creating a first impression of hospitality and friendliness at our borders."

[Image: Disney World 2004.]

Faced with a decline in the number of overseas visitors and unpopular entry requirements, the U.S. government is turning to the Walt Disney Co. and other theme park operators to brighten the country's battered image. - Reuters. Where Dreams Come True...?

Last October, we read about the U.S. Coast Guard's plan to create 34 live-fire zones on the Great Lakes, in order to train personnel on machine guns that fire 600 lead bullets per minute. We were looking at dumping almost 11,000 pounds of lead per year into the world's largest supply of fresh water. However, after criticism, and hopefully coming to their sense, the Coast Guard recently dropped their plan for a Great Lakes firing range playground.

We Must Prevent Permanent Bases in Iraq: Congress passed a law banning permanent bases in Iraq and the Baker-Hamilton Report suggests that Bush state we don't have long-term plans - meanwhile, construction continues.

In Baghdad, "The city's parks supervisor has made it his mission to beautify the city even as continuing war destroys Baghdad's once opulent gardens.

"The flowers appear overnight, and in the unlikeliest of places: carnations near a checkpoint, roses behind razor wire, and gardenias in a square known for suicide bombings."

Defense Tech, covering the Wall Street Journal, says, Military Going Green... But Still Chugging Oil.

Revive industries, create jobs, fight terrorism with socio-economic progress – wow, there’s a novel idea. Nevertheless, this is a great article and audio piece by James Glanz in the NYT.

It is a strange landscape he says, the kind of industrial you only find in Iraq.
“Inside a huge shuttered factory on the gritty western fringes of this outlaw desert town, thousands of ornate porcelain sinks, toilets and other fixtures sit in row after row next to the automated ovens and assembly lines that once churned out the products but lie silent under a thin film of yellow desert dust.”

Insurgent TV Coming to a Satellite Near You?

The Round City of the House of Wisdom, another view of Baghdad. And going Door to Door in Sadr City.

In 500 Miles to Babylon, video activist David Martinez has captured the outrage and sufferings of civilian victims of the carnage in Iraq. The Nation.

Ellis Island: Ghosts of Freedom documents the weather-beaten remnants of the immigration hub's abandoned hospital buildings, where people who steamed past the Statue of Liberty on crowded ships were sometimes held back if they had an infectious disease or obvious disorder

In South African prisons.

Mission Control

Projected images designed to scare an enemy?

Nick Hawton follows a crazy crytogeographic path through Poland where "unusual planes arrived at the Szymany airport in 2003" allegedly as part of the CIA's secret gulag system camping on european runways.

Atomic tourism During the heart of the cold war, from the 1960s to the mid-80s, the 54 Titan II underground complexes like this one — with its blast doors, firing console and spartan crew quarters, all preserved as the Titan Missile Museum — were part of the American program of nuclear deterrence, on constant alert to keep aggressive impulses in the Soviet Union at bay. - NYT.

Federal agencies are moving to relocate outside a 50-mile range from Washington DC outside the nuclear fallout zone. Read here & here.

Tracking illicit nuclear trade: "‘By using a cluster analysis algorithm coded into a program, I evaluated those traffic patterns and routes in which thefts, seizures, and destinations of materials were reported,’ said Sandia researcher David York. ’Data from these examinations were enough to allow me to retrospectively depict the A. Q. Kahn network before it was uncovered.’" (Sounds like something from the TV show Numb3rs.)

Safety vs. Security In Restructuring Of Nation's Capital: Officials Argue Barriers Do Not Keep Residents Safe

Endless Prunings:

Google Guerrilla: "Terrorists attacking British bases in Basra are using aerial footage displayed by the Google Earth internet tool to pinpoint their attacks, say Army intelligence sources."
Cold War National Park: "Mildewed missile silos. Subterranean bunkers. Minefields and pestilential swamps. Silent airfields and cavernous airplane hangers. Barbed wires. Electric fences. Arcadian birch-covered hills. GPS navigators. World War III launch pads. Munition dumps. It's a landscape architect's paradise."
KGB Hotel: "So instead of a Presidential Suite with an ocean view, you'll be placed in solitary confinement or the interrogation room. Instead of pleasant greetings from a cheery staff, you'll be welcomed with gun fire and barking orders from (former) Soviet prison guards. And instead of signing the guestbook, you'll be processed, photographed, and given your arrest card."
The Army Corps of Engineers: The Game: "Remember the Sundarbans, that “tapestry of waterways, mudflats, and forested islands at the edge of the Bay of Bengal” and home to an unbelievably huge array of endangered species? The Independent reported last month that one of the inhabited islands there, Lohachara, has “disappeared beneath rising seas.”


Geology in the Age of the War on Terror: "A few months after September 11th, the New York Times published a kind of geological look at the War on Terror. In a short but amazingly interesting – albeit subscriber-only – article, the NYTimes explored how ancient landscape processes and tectonic events had led to the formation of interconnected mountain caves in which Osama bin Laden was, at that point, hiding."

[Earlier peripherals ... 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13]

Thursday, January 18, 2007

U.S. vs. Mexico (Border Ball is on!)

[Now we have it, the first (that I have seen) video recorded International Game of Border Ball can be viewed right here, in a tight tight match beween the U.S. and Mexico, with a nice narration on the state of militarization, too. (Thanks Nick for lobbing this one my way!)]

Monday, January 15, 2007

... and flying Pentagons, too.

[Image: E-4B National Airborne Operations Center, photo by FAS.]

Time magazine takes us on a mini tour of an odd "white Boeing 747 with the words 'United States of America' emblazoned on its side," better known to Pentagon types as the "Doomsday Plane." "With odd bumps and antenna protruding from its fuselage," the article tells us, "the modified 747 is the so-called 'National Airborne Operations Center' (NAOC)," a flying Pentagon, if you will, designed to keep the government's war room soaring free in the event of a catastrophic event, or disaster.

From Time:

The NAOC on alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week — although there are four identical planes that rotate duty, and also serve as backup to Air Force One.

Unlike Air Force One, the NAOC can refuel in midair and is designed and supplied with engine oil, and food and water for the crew to be able to stay aloft for days. Its full crew includes intelligence analysts, communications specialists, maintenance troops, and even its own security force. It constantly monitors all major U.S. commands and the location of nuclear forces, keeps an eye on potentially hostile military troops, gathers intelligence data, and monitors the whereabouts of every U.S. government official in the line of succession. The NAOC also carries with it at all times about a dozen of the most relevant war plans in case senior officers need them at hand.

We truly have entered the age of the flying fortress with secret jetliner taxis, airborne penthouses, stealthy airport-squatting mobile gulags, instant democracies and deployable pneumatic parliaments. You might say the skies have turned into a full blown aerial privatopia up there most of us will probably never see, much less even know about.
Unless it all comes falling from the sky one day in a kind of architectural hail storm of defunct government fuselages, disposable extraordinary rendition torture chambers, future fossils of jet-propelled Google headquarters, all tumbling from the clouds together in great bombastic chunks of classified debris, toppled by record breaking atmospheric pressures and freakish electromagnetic storms.
Just make sure to look out.

(spotted at Boing Boing).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Day Laborer Space

The last time I noticed Public Architecture’s renderings for a “Day Laborer Station” the design appeared to be much more mobile, temporary, light weight - less grounded. Quite literally it had a hitch on it, flappable walls that looked like flying instruments, and an innerspace collective cockpit - all which I liked. The new design appears to be more fastened now to the context, embedded in it, and maybe taken on a brand new air of aesthetic viability.

Let’s face it, trying to get cities to adopt 'day-laborer stations' isn’t the easiest of battles right now. While providing responsible day laborer space makes total sense, it also forces a recognition of the U.S.'s cultural underhanded treatment of day laborers, it sanctions their contribution to the economy, and gets cities to plan appropriately for their deserved places in the labor market. But instead of waiting for immigration to boil down this seems like the most crucial moment in American day-laborer history to mobilze and try to define their own architectural niches - to self-urbanize, self-legitimize. Preserve the architecural rights of mankind - assume a shell and organize. And that's what it is: a kind of politically binded borderlands' nomadic urbanism.

The new design wants to appear less temporary and to position itself as a more permanent part of any future urban solution. Though it says it can be deployed it appears this latest prototype would remain in place overnight and therefore not move at all. Which I think is an important progression in gaining municipal acceptance, promoting a fundamental spatial dignity for day laborers that won’t be easily swept away, and could be the first step in building a longer range structural institution for the day laborer community.

But I don’t think the other design (as pictured above) has become outgrown or made any less useful, either. I can imagine plenty circumstances where the previous rig might still be optimal. What if neighborhood groups don’t want a permanent installation on or near their block? What if weather conditions shift the day laborer locations temporarily, or road conditions, an accident. Or any other unforeseeable settlement disruptions. What if normal location access is decreased by something, a new construction zone, f.e., a street event, and workers are forced to relocate to more visible locations in inhospitable weather condition? Or, suppose there are only a few of these structures at first, and determining their ideal location requires movement and some location testing? I guess I see uses for both structures, maybe in different stages of exploration in neighborhoods, and in general want to see the informal labor market flooded with them.

I always thought the potential station had the unique capability to serve as a multi-use space for perhaps other communities, too, so that not only could the day laborers find this structure useful and adaptive given several unique needs, but it could also allow them to branch out with other communities who may share similar challenges of mobilizing in the streets. So the day laborer station becomes a valuable place for expanding social networks and bridging multiple communities who require use of public space for their livelihoods. So it is great to hear that the new design “will be flexible enough to serve various uses, including as an employment center, meeting space, and classroom.”

Anyway, I am pretty excited to see this project fulfilling its use some day here in the San Francisco Bay Area where there is tremendous need, or wherever it may happen to enter the civil domain. The Day Laborer Station prototype will actually be on display in May 2007 at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in the exhibition “Design for the Other 90%,” a showcase for humanitarian design that sounds great. The show “highlights the growing trend among designers to develop solutions that address basic needs for the vast majority of the world’s population not traditionally serviced by professional designers.” So if you are in the area or just want to lock it down now - keep it in mind.

According to this recently printed preview, it will be organized according to different sectors of humanitarian focus, like food, water, shelter, health and sanitation, education, energy and transportation. Featured will be design solutions such as:

» the LifeStraw, a mobile personal water purification tool.
» furniture recycled from hurricane debris and produced by the Katrina Furniture Project.
» the Pot-in-Pot Cooler, a storage container that doubles the amount of crops saved while extending their shelf life.
» the Big Boda Load Carrying Bicycle, which can easily carry hundreds of pounds of cargo or two additional passengers at a substantially lower cost than other forms of human-powered utility vehicles.
» MoneyMaker Pumps, which families can use to irrigate fruits and vegetables during the dry season, allowing greater crop yields year-round.
» Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop per Child project, an inexpensive, universal laptop computer to be used as an educational tool for children.

Facing the Wall

Shi Guorui is a Chinese photographer who abandoned modern cameras in 1998 to work exclusively with the camera obscura, or "dark room" in Latin. Sitting in the the unlit silence of his 10'-by-10' tented camera for hours at a time, Shi has photographed some of the world's most intriguing landscapes, the San Francisco Chronicle tells us - futurist Beijing, mythological California, the ancient lumbering mountain range of the Great Wall of China.

But something about Shi's remarks on his experience staring at the wall-sized sheet of paper inside his shelter contraption struck me - a little zen tidbit perhaps one can only find in the blackness of self-confinement. He says, "thinking about the outer and inner worlds, the look, history and spirit of the place whose image is being burned onto the wall" produces a kind of isolation for improving the inner self. "As I face the wall, I'm aware that I'm living."

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Border Fences-R-Us

It seems almost every month there emerges from some border zone a proposal to build a new fence. One might think the border fence is as popular to the construction industry today as the global skyscraper, the suburban tract home, or the gated community. In fact, who is to say they are not somewhat at least symbolically interconnected. Anyhow, this month it is Pakistan who announced “a new solution to the problem on its western frontier.” That is, according to this report: “mines and fences along the Afghan border, designed to keep militants from crossing in and out of the tribal zone.”

[Image: Will Pakistan's fence plan work?, BBC - Jan. 4, 2007.]

Just so you know – there is roughly a long and extremely rugged 1,600-mile stretch of terrain that separates Pakistan from Afghanistan. It is perhaps the most intractable and unforgiving border geography around the world, yet where some 200,000 people still manage to traverse it each day, though “not all crossing at designated points.”
And so, following in the superficial footsteps of many other of the great geopolitical hotbeds these days, Musharraf sees it fit now to throw up another fence, adding to the thousands and thousands of miles of barbed wire and structure posts that already line the back of the globe like a broken and exposed international boundary spine. Even though many of his critics suggest this to be a loser solution to a more political based problem of tolerating militants in the tribal zone where political parties are essentially banned, Pakistan officials claim the fence is a means to merely re-clasp control of their porous borders.
With no time frame as of yet laid out, according to the article, “it is unclear if Pakistani authorities plan to mine and wire the entire 1,500-mile stretch.” However, “the proposed fence would run along the Durand Line, a border set by British colonialists in 1893. Pakistan recognizes the line as an international border, but Afghanistan does not,” which is sure to cause a few issues with the local Pashtun tribes who have shared the border for centuries.
Anyone want to guess where the next border fence proposal will come from?

Great Wall Preservatives : A Porcelain Fence : 'Tactical Infrastructure' and the 'Border Calculus' : Wall(s) of Light : The Participatory Panopticon at the border... : Resist the Apartheid Walls, from Palestine to Mexico : More Fence Sprouts : An Embroidered Wall : The Saudi's Immigrant-hunting Border Fence : Padua's Berlin Wall : Welcome to America : Call it 'Border Ball' : An Equator of Borderzones : urban syntax: at the border... : "Thinking of Walls" : Border CTRL : Rival Actions: at the border... : Bethlehem Prison City Gates : Three Ehxibits: on Walls & Political Divide

Semiotic-mania at the border...

[Image: Vienna based artist Mladen Penev put together a project in 2005 called Caution Illegal Border Crossing, by situating a series of caution signs in absurd contexts, mocking a number of perceptions about immigration. Me likes. There are more images on his website. Check them out. And thanks Heather for throwing this one my way!]