Friday, March 30, 2007

(also) at the checkpoint ...

You may have already heard since I am kind of late on this one, but earlier this week a Palestinian woman was apprehended at a border checkpoint in Gaza for smuggling three crocodiles.
"But despite her loose fitting robe, suspicions were raised by her girth," an EU spokeswoman told the BBC.
Yeah, you read that right, the woman literally tried to wear the crocs across the border. But, hey, people do all the time in their designer boots and belts, right? This story has got all that beat.
"The reptiles, each around 40-50cm (15-20 inches) long, were taped to the woman's body beneath her dress."
Just look at'em! That's some craziness.
She told the border guards that her plan was to sell them to a zoo in Gaza City.

At the Checkpoint

A group called 'Palestinians for peace, dialogue and equality' has been organizing artistic protests against the matrix of Israeli checkpoints that have quite literally imprisoned the reisidents of Nablus and Bethlehem for years, and ghettoized most of the neighborhoods through out the Occupied Territories.

[Image: The relatively new Qalandiya fortified IDF checkpoint in the West Bank, via.]

As part of a "30 Days Against Checkpoints" campaign, Palestinian artist and photographer Khalad Jarar back in February hung 40 photographs depicting the Palestinian daily crossings on a fence lining the Hawara checkpost south of Nablus, "as an illustration of the hardships such checkpoints create for the Palestinians in the West Bank."

Just recently, this exhibition was moved to a wire fence at a Ramallah checkpoint in the central West Bank. "The current installation focuses on Qalandiya," we read, "one of the West Bank's largest" checkpoints where the photos now hang after they were displayed at Ramallah's International Academy of Art.

The Qalandiya Checkpoint, as I've learned, "was erected with Ramallah and Qalandiya Refugee Camp on one side, and Ar Ram and East Jerusalem on the other." This is a primary blockade against Palestinians who try to enter Jerusalem, "which Jarrar describes as the historical, economic, spiritual, and physical heart of the West Bank.”

Making passage through Qalandiya practicaly impossible is the fact that Palestinians in the West Bank must carry Israeli-issued ID cards indicating which areas, roads, and holy sites they are or are not allowed access to. As this brief article mentions, back in the days during the apartheid era "Pass Laws enabled South African police to arrest Blacks at will. Similarly, Israeli occupation forces use ID cards not only to monitor Palestinian movement, but also to justify frequent arbitrary detention and arrest with general impunity."

Such massive checkpoint installations like the one in Bethlehem and Qalandiya are said by the Israeli government to be a "temporary measure", but it doesn't take an architect to determine the amount of money and permanent construction that has cemented these border stations in Palestinian territory. The "terminal" in Bethlehem, for example, is described as a "cattle-catch maze of turnstyles and x-ray machines, all enclosed in an enormous building of wire and steel and sniper weapons with crosshairs tuned like a fiddle."
If ever there were such a thing, it is the architecture of occupation, indeed.

Also, be sure to check out: Terminal in Bethlehem; Bethlehem Prison City Gates; Another small indignity at an Israeli checkpoint

Monday, March 26, 2007

Peripheral Milit_Urb 15

[Image: Cincu - Großschenk, Transylvania.]


Democracy Now: New Iraq Oil Law To Open Iraq's Oil Reserves to Western Companies - "After a long negotiation process involving US officials, the Iraqi government is considering a new oil law that would establish a framework for managing the third-largest oil reserves in the world. What would this new law mean for Iraq?" Amy Goodman speaks with Raed Jarrar Iraq Project Director for Global Exchange. He is an Iraqi blogger and architect, and Antonia Juhasz, author and activist.
Also, in DemNow: The Iraq Effect: New Study Finds 600% Rise in Terrorism Since US Invasion of Iraq.

Pruned: The Hanging Cemetery of Babylon - "Nannette Jackowski and Ricardo O. C. de Ostos, both recently tasked to author the next installment of Pamphlet Architecture, once proposed “a gigantic presence of a hanging funeral structure” that will hover above the war torn streets of Baghdad, floating unceasingly “from bright explosive mornings to airless night hours,” and lush with growth from an endless supply of dead Iraqis."
On that tip, Bldgblog highlights "a skyscraping extension to the Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica, a vertical cemetery established in Santos in Brazil in 1983." Structures of the death market.

Washington Post: Iraq Rebuilding Short on Qualified Civilians - "The management of reconstruction projects in the province has been assigned to a Border Patrol commander with no reconstruction experience. The task of communicating with the embassy in Baghdad has been handed off to a man with no background in drafting diplomatic cables. The post of agriculture adviser has gone unfilled because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided just one of the six farming experts the State Department asked for a year ago."

Washinton Post: Inspector General Details Failures of Iraq Reconstruction - "The U.S. government was unprepared for the extensive nation-building required after it invaded Iraq, and at each juncture where it could have adjusted its efforts, it failed even to understand the problems it faced, according to the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction." [Also, BBC: Reconstruction in Iraq criticised; NYT: Iraq Reconstruction Teams to Receive Needed Support; Danger Room: Reconstruction Surging, Too]

Planetizen: No Reliable Electricity in Baghdad Until 2013? - "Baghdad's mayor Sabir al-Isawi expresses frustration with American authorities over sluggish repairs to smashed infrastructure."

Iraqi Border Town Struggles With Violence, Drugs and Little Government Help: "The daily attacks in Iraq's cities often overshadow the problems in smaller towns. But as hundreds-of-thousands of Iraqis flee Baghdad and other major cities, small town officials face growing problems. VOA's Barry Newhouse recently visited the town of Khanaqin on Iraq's border with Iran, where local officials are trying to cope with sectarian violence, a stagnant economy, booming drug trafficking and a massive influx of new arrivals."

In Baghdad, a Flimsy Outpost: U.S. troops sleep after setting up a combat outpost, one of 100 slated for the capital, in an abandoned gym in western Baghdad. (By Ernesto Londono -- The Washington Post)
[8th Iraqi Army Division To Get Six New Garrison Buildings; and tangentially related: Bldgblog: Sleep Labs of the Soviet Empire]

Bouphonia: A Seller's Market - A good roundup of recent military contracts and weapons finding a new home in and around the Gulf.

Planetizen: Transforming Kandahar - "Despite ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, Kandahar's officials, residents and planners are envisioning a prosperous and sustainable future for the city."


Planetizen: War Fatalities Hurt Small Town America - "Small towns and rural areas hit by economic downturns have seen many of their young people enlist for lack of other opportunities -- and as a result they represent almost half of U.S. war fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan."

AlterNet: In Defense of Mercenaries - A pretty interesting article on the infrastructure of the private mercenary industry and it's shadowy legitimacy in the U.S. warfare market. "From strategic weapons systems as the B-2 stealth bomber and Global Hawk to running ROTC programs, the military has been colonized by corporations. This is all legitimate business created by our own government." But, entrenched to such an extent in the darkness of lacking oversight, even members of the PMC (private military contractors) community themselves are begining to urge greater regulation.

A photoset for the BBC by photographer Yoav Galai covers some of the tension and protest in Jerusalem as the Israeli government excavates along side the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, considered the most important religious site in Jerusalem. "Its Western Wall is the holiest site in Judaism. The mount is holy to Jews because it was the site of the First and Second Temple in ancient times. The compound also houses the Dome of the Rock, pictured here, and the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam." [...] "The status of these sites and control over them is one of the most sensitive issues in the Middle East conflict. The start of Israeli excavations at the Mugrabi Gate, a preliminary to repairs to a walkway up to the compound, enraged Muslims around the world. Palestinian leaders say the work threatens Islamic archaeological remains and see the work as a huge provocation. Israel insists that the work poses no risk to the holy site." [Also: Israeli Politics of 'Archeology' in Jerusalem] is an open source and independent wiki providing cross-cultural (institutionally speaking) information. The target communities include, but isn't restricted to, those studying counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, intelligence, private military companies, private intelligence companies, peacekeeping and peacemaking, and public diplomacy. ConflictWiki will be the clearing house for information for conflicts from wars to low-intensity or terrorist operations. The actors in these conflicts, whether they are state or non-state, will be captured here, like lists of militias, terrorist groups, and criminal gangs.

Boing Boing: Red Cross chapter installs fearmongering terror billboards. Apparently, they are popping up all over the place. Check these out.

Then, there was this stunt in San Francisco.

Xeni Jardin takes on a little tour of One Wishire in Downtown Los Angeles - "If the Internet is a superhighway, One Wilshire is a really popular roadside hotel. It's a 30-story building, and once exclusively housed law offices. CRG West manages the property, and they're the tech real estate branch of the Carlyle Group. David Dunn of CRG West says 23 of the building's floors are now designed to house not people, but some of the most important communications infrastructure in the country."

BBC: Lasers could one day be used to destroy rockets, mortars, or roadside bombs - "A laser developed for military use is a few steps away from hitting a power threshold thought necessary to turn it into a battlefield weapon." The image above is a possible design for a mobile labratory that could deploy the the Solid State Heat Capacity Laser (SSHCL)in the field.

CityStates: Portage & Main: Barriers More than Concrete - "Owing to a massive redevelopment project in 1976, all pedestrian traffic was diverted into an underground mall known as Winnipeg Square, and since then street traffic has been able to negotiate the wide turns without waiting for people to get out of the way. Meanwhile, people in the underground tunnels face what must surely be one of the country's most frustrating wayfinding challenges -- attempting to select the proper stairs to lead to the desired intersection. Once topside, of course, anyone wanting to visit the intersection on foot must remain behind concrete barriers -- visible in the photo below:"

Phronesisacial: Fear and the Physical Environment: Helmut writes in regards to Ourrossouff's recent NYT article: "We have, after all, fetishized fear. It runs our foreign policy; it runs our domestic social policy. When fear becomes this natural, it's a surprise that we can continue to see the fortresses of our daily life at all. Does it matter that we're turning the aesthetic of our lived environment into simply a function of utility and security to this extent? Yes. Because it is a reflection of who we increasingly are and who we are increasingly has little to do with the actual nature of threats, the existence of threats, and intelligent responses to them, and more to do with a realm of fantasy in which we believe erroneously that everyone wants what we have and envies us for it. They want to destroy us and our self-satisfied symbols of freedom and prosperity. We must protect it. But what, precisely, is the it that we are so desperate to protect? I'm not so sure we have any idea."

Architecture of Fear: Severe, High, Elevated, Guarded or Low? - A good review of the book “5 Codes; Architecture, Paranoia and Risk in Times of Terror”

STITCH FOR SENATE: "Stitch for Senate is an initiative of knit hobbyists making helmet liners for every United States Senator. The helmet liner pattern was adapted from a support-the-troops initiative for soldiers stationed in Iraq. All the senators will receive their own helmet liner, and Senators can opt to send helmet liners to a soldier once they receive the helmet. Charitable knitting during wartime has been a tradition since the American Revolution and this charitable knitting project focuses on supporting the troops by encouraging senators to bring the troops home. The Stitch for Senate website will compile testimonies from knitters reviving this cultural trend, seeking to understand what knitters express through wartime knitting: charity, allegiance, patriotism, resistance, radicalism, etc. and use the tradition of political organizing within knitting circles as a space for storytelling, discussion, exchange and protest."

Roland Piquepaille: The impact of nuclear attacks on U.S. cities: "Researchers from the Center for Mass Destruction Defense (CMADD) at the University of Georgia have created a detailed simulation of the catastrophic impact a nuclear attack would have on American cities. They've looked at the detailed consequences that such attacks would have on four cities, Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., and concluded that the destruction of the major hospitals in the downtown areas of the four cities would be almost nearly complete. They've estimated the numbers of direct deaths from the blasts and indirect ones from burns and radiations. They also give some solutions to reduce the number of lost lives, which could reach 5 million for the New York City area. Frightening..."

[Earlier peripherals ... 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14]

Friday, March 23, 2007

The State of FEMA

[Image: Thousands of FEMA trailers sitting idle and for sale in Hope, Ak. Photo Credit: By Danny Johnston/AP, Washington Post, 2007.]

Ok, so we’ve read the reports: "Toxic Trailers Are Making Katrina Refugees Ill"; Trailers, Vital After Storm, Now Pose Risks; FEMA Squandering Millions; Mike Davis weighed in on New Urbanism, the GOP, FEMA, calling the impending gentrification in New Orleans "ethnic cleansing"; and with the recent removal of people from the sickly trailers another wave of homeless people have gone as far as to call it "Hurricane FEMA"; and now, in response to our own earlier post (FEMA Wasted) we learn how not only did FEMA buy "145,000 trailers and mobile homes just before and after Katrina hit, spending $2.7 billion largely through no-bid contracts," which have largely sat unused on a lot in the state of Arkansas that almost looks big enough to just be called its own state -- a state of wasted space -- now, it seems FEMA is "selling off as many as 41,000 of the homes, netting, so far, about 40 cents on each dollar spent by taxpayers."
Will the hemorrhaging ever stop?

Inside the Danger Room

Sorry for the absence, just extremely busy. But real quick, in case you haven’t found Noah Shachtman’s latest blog venture on your own – let me do the honors of pointing it out to you.
First, Noah started the ever metapresent Defense Tech back in the day, covering like no other resource I’ve found the monstrosity of the defense industry with all its associated technomilitaristic tentacles, but recently decided to shift camp to the Wired world of things. That space, with many of the same collaborators from Defense Tech, is now aptly titled -- the Danger Room.

Let me give you a quick tour:

Okay, so, suppose your city is hit with a dirty bomb and all your buildings are instantly radioactively infected, who you gonna call? Well, apparently there is a “superabsorbing hydrogel” in the works that may one day allow dudes to just simply spray and wipe all the radioactive materials away with a foam, kinda (hypothetically at least) like Lysol – as easy as scrubbing the tub; the architectural hazard of post-war residue suddenly lathered out of existence.
Noah also spoke with Darpa’s top chief Tony Tether “about everything from bio-terrorists to zombie rodents to thinking machines to the golf courses in Iraq." Yup, just go read it.
Not a Darpa toy per se, but this should give you a little example of the Pentagon’s experimental war toy laboratory at work:
In addition to the Air Force’s ADS (Active Denial System), essentially a non-lethal lightwave gun that makes you feel as if you “have been dipped in molten lava”, there is a new full-scale crowd-stunning 7.5m candlepower flood light that can be mounted to an UAV which would fly over the mob and unleash a massive strobing lightbeam that will cause temporarily paralyzing effects on anyone standing within it. I know, nutty. Find out how it works, though, here.
And just to make sure the operators of such overhead weaponry are properly alert and neither overly nor under rested, the Air Force is also investigating sleep-fighting lights that could help do away with the current use of “go-pills” which keep soldiers amped to fight. Craziness. Lamps that deprive you of your sleep, stimulate hyper war vigilance, and optimize you for proper fighting frames of mind.
In case these guys are facing heavy attack, the Army has determined a new type of field armor for them. Let’s call it,……wood. Yes, wood. I quote: "Although tree wood may not seem like the most impenetrable defense for soldiers in tents and under attack, when combined with fiberglass and plastic it creates a sturdy shield against exploding mortar fragments."
There is something so poetic about that, wood in the face of full-on guerilla warfare. All that stands between life and death in Afghanistan, is wood. Wood! Start stacking your pile now.
How about armor on a more domestic scale, how about defending, say, cars from car thieves? Again, who you gonna call? Well Ghostbusters might not be that far off this time. Check out this fog machine that goes off when a car gets hijacked. Or better yet, check out this tesla coil forcefield?

Needless to say, Danger Room is one helluva resource. Keep your eyes on it, every day, go there, be blown away by the topics, the coverage. It’s crazy in there.

[The above image has nothing to do with anything related to this blog o post, except that I like its pristine plainess, its unrendered and unassuming banality, as if something vastly mysterious must take place inside. Nevertheless, it's a product as pictured on this site.]

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Green Line

Up until today I had not heard of artist Francis Alÿs, who apparently was trained as an engineer and architect, but, for the past 20 years has lived in Mexico producing paintings, films, sculptures, and his particular brand of performance art, or, rather, performance walks – which I'll say are extremely cool.

For example, his latest project, which comes together in an installation for David Zwirner in Manhattan (his first solo gallery show in a decade, we are told by the New York Times), chronicles a 15-mile walk he took through Jerusalem with nothing other than a map and some leaky cans of green paint. His intention, following along a detailed indication of the “Green Line” according to the armistice after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, was to trace the Green Line’s actual geography today with a bag full of paint cans dribbling a broken, confused, and somewhat inaccessible outline of where it should technically be observed.
In a film Julien Devaux made of the walk, he is seen hiking down streets, through yards and parks, past military checkpoints and over rocky abandoned terrain, all relatively with ease and without much notice or harassment, surprisingly enough.

The article goes on to describe his work as “an art of symbolic gesture, a kind of acted-out metaphor, produced by a body or bodies in motion.” His own body-in-motion generated inscription of the Green Line calls attention, in a beautifully subversive way, to the actual line of concrete barriers, security walls, and network of checkpoints that in all essence completely violates the geography of the original agreed-upon border line.

I love the idea, and can’t believe it had not already been done: painting the actual delineation of the Green Line for all to observe, while also, in some obtuse way, tracing the insidious discrepancy of the present halved geography of matrix-dissected removal of Palestinian access to the ancient city. And I would say, his project needs to be extended beyond just the 15-mile stroll through Jerusalem. Why not devote a massive coordination to painting in the Green Line to its completion through out the entire Occupied Territories? Locals could take the torch and finish this themselves.

While “The Green Line, as Mr. Alÿs reinscribes it” (according to the NYT), is radically fluid: the next rainstorm, some traffic, a crowd of passing feet would, and surely did, obliterate it", I must admit, this is one instance where I could care less about the ephemeral and fleeting quality of the performance art nature of the piece.
In fact, I wish this line could remain in tact permanently.
To go with it, I wish there were a series of street signs or some other project that would build upon this one, guiding folks along the actual path of the Green Line as it was intended. It maybe be cheesy, but you put on some headphones, unfold a specialized map and take an audio tour of the contested territories, and learn specifically about the history of the conflict, the making of the apartheid wall for all its own flexibility and shifty strategic routing and re-routing, listen to personal accounts of localized struggles along the way, epic survival stories of violence, of homes split down the middle, farms axed by the wall -- a walk of shame tour -- all the while, comparing the current hard nosed outline of the occupation with all its lack of correspondence to the desingations of the Green Line's earlier border consensus.

Needless to say, if I were in New York City I would check this out. In addition to the film, included in the show is apparently a number of archival peices on the original Green Line (maps and documents), as well as interviews with “contemporary Israeli, Palestinian and European pundits” that form, I guess, a kind of catalogue. Oh, and apparently some fabricated piecemeal guns he fancied out of scraps and found materials.

“Sometimes Doing Something Poetic Can Become Political, and Sometimes Doing Something Political Can Become Poetic” at the David Zwirner gallery.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Face to Face

[Image: Face2Face is a project by two guys who couldn't help seeing Israelis and Palestinians as looking, sounding, acting, to some degree, exactly alike, in the best senses, of course. So, in attempt to spur mutual cooperation and diplomatic perspectives, they decided to plaster unavoidable spaces on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian border with gargantuan images of both characters to show, in a silly and suturing sort of way, their unapologetic striking similarities. I love it. Some images via Wooster Collective. Others can be found here on Jr's website.]

(thanks Jav!)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Gitmo Courthouse Compound goes bye bye

A few days ago Defense Secretary Gates called the plan for a $100m courthouse compound that was to be built on the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, “ridiculous.” Originally, as we reported earlier, the Pentagon wanted to establish a special facility for trying terrorist suspects that would have been designed, we are told again, “to accommodate as many as 1,200 people” and “called for three courtrooms to allow for multiple trials to be conducted simultaneously.”
Consider it a kind of fast-track for trying suspected terrorists.
Included would also have been “a separate high-security area to house the detainees facing trial.”

[Image: Guantanamo Bay - Camp X-Ray, photo via Global Security.]

This project, as senator Feinstein pointed out, had not been subject to the normal review process because the Pentagon had last fall invoked emergency powers to bypass any congressional oversight.
This Courthouse Complex, or Military Commissions Compound, would have facilitated new policy that allows war-crimes detainees to be tried under the Military Commissions Act, which essentially strips U.S. courts of their jurisdiction to hear or consider habeas corpus appeals to challenge the lawfulness of detention for anyone held in U.S. custody as an "enemy combatant."
Now, it appears such Military tribunals will take place inside “temporary buildings like we've used in Iraq,” Gates said, with some “additional facilities that will be paid for by the $1.6 million that is included in the current budget request for facility upgrades.”
And, as we read in the Washington Post, the first round of mass trials will begin this Friday when 14 “high-value foreign terrorism suspects”, currently held at Guantanamo Bay, will face hearings “to determine whether they are enemy combatants.” This will apparently “take place behind closed doors because of the risk that top-secret information could surface.”
And the spaces of exception continue to unfold before our very eyes.
Read about the process of these tribunals in this informative article by the Post.

Also, check out some of our other coverage of Guantanamo Bay: A Mini-city for Trying Terror; Guantánamo and the Border Exodus; Walkthrough Gitmo: the de-restricted fortress.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Lonely Cyclops

Artist Christian Moeller has designed a robot that “stands on this pedestal with a light in his hand and shines it around for no reason, like a lonely fellow,” he says, “lost in the corner, all day, all night.”
Playing with experiential notions of flood lights and surveillance Mojo’s massive arm retracts and aims its unsettling light with “machine-precision vigilance” at people whose motion is detected within a range calculated by two CCTV cameras fixed nearby.
This installation for downtown San Pedro, California builds on a body of work blurring distinctions of art and surveillance through human interaction with machinery.
He says in this New York Times article “Before we were scared of these things. Now to some extent people are embracing surveillance because it makes them feel safer.” But I wonder if his work isn’t helping that process, of accepting a surveillatopia.

He also mentions on his website for the Do Not Touch project where there was a huge warning sign on a gallery floor that told visitors ‘do not touch,’:
“It creates a conflict by tempting the visitor to do precisely what he is warned not to do. This conflict, when resolved through disobedience results in a jolting physical experience.”

In this case it was a significant electric shock.
Though, what actually metabolizes culturally as a result of this cyclopean security guard? I mean, I think this sculpture and most of his work is cool as hell, but do these projects help us become more tolerant of an omnipotent surveillance atmosphere? If rather than jolting and alerting us to the fearful cultural effect of surveillance instead making us skeptical of what some of these installations signify, are we being tempted by them for their seductive artistic appeal?
Is this futuristic appendage of panopticonism acculturating us to more prominent landscape fixtures in Big Brother's garden? Will Mojo have a kind of salesmanship effect on the public when it comes time to install these things permanently down along the border, or in Central Park, or will it provoke the opposite?

(Images via J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times, 2007.)