Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Millipedic Limbs of Military Spending

On nights you’re up late in bed, sleepless with incurable headache, just beat down and wondering where the hell exactly all your hard earned income tax dollars have gone, interminably curious and confused about how they’re actually being spent; and, perhaps, more importantly, how they will go on being spent this next year, and the years to follow – well, you might be able to rest a little easier, now, I don’t know.
Probably not, actually.
In any case, you might at least get a more clear picture of the spending skeleton that supports the body of the American federal budget by looking at this incredible interactive visualization project put together by Wallstats -- it's a totally fascinating and simplistic representation, easy to navigate, and you won't be able to help yourself from getting lost in it – your untangled tax trails as they’ve been allocated by the U.S. government made bare, for you to sniff and follow.

(Click the window in the upper right corner of the image to launch.)

"Death and Taxes:2009" is a representational poster of the federal discretionary budget; the amount of money that is spent at the discretion of your elected representatives in Congress. Basically, your federal income taxes. The data is from the President's budget request for 2009. It will be debated, amended, and approved by Congress by October 1st to begin the fiscal year.

The sheer complexity of this thing is maddening alone, not to mention the fine print realities of it all, particularly the micro-parcels of sums that are feeding the war machine. This is when I wish I had a 30” widescreen monitor so I could blow this up and see it sprawling in all its graphical entirety. Time to forward to my friend who does.
I may just have to buy the poster since I find it is so damned cool. You should, too.

Just look at the millipedic appendages of separate spending categories that spoke of the 515 billion dollar Department of Defense Budget. Astounding.
Pretty incredible map, I must say. I love these visualizations, total referential mania! So there it is kids, the financial architecture of the military industrial-complex and its dollared footprint mapped there for your awesome gander. Have fun -- hours of looking fun!

And, for a nice read along: It's Time for a Trillion-Dollar Tag Sale at the Pentagon, "When we want to get serious about a long-term bailout strategy, we'll start dismantling the American empire and Pentagon programs." - Nick Turse.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Peripheral Milit_Urb 26


Months ago, Archis released an issue with a fascinating insert on Kabul based on one of their recent RSVP events that took a few lucky people there to investigate the security and public space dimensions of the capital city’s urban fabric. Apologetically, I failed to mention this ages ago, but alas point you there now in case you haven’t seen it already. The section was beautifully designed, mimicking a kind of Afghan daily gazette with op-ed-like commentary and pseudo-investigative journalism, little blurbs, and some very compelling imagery, that implied this was all information gathered for the local population more so than the architecture heads of Archis’ normal readership.

I love that it aimed to speak to the Afghanistan people themselves this way, gesturing a dialogue with them about the current making, unmaking, and remaking of their city.
Anyway, you should check it out for yourself. The PDF, Security City, Public City, can be downloaded here . [But don’t miss this other coverage: The Architecture of Fear: Rattling the Gates :: Archis: Interventions - Kabul :: Jolyon Leslie on the reconstruction of Kabul]

Old Kabul is rising from its own ashes // Insurgency’s Scars Line Afghanistan’s Main Road // Hope among the rubble // Back in Kabul, Never at Peace // Pentagon Dangles Afghan Road Hype; Reporters Bite // Taliban Threatens Cell Towers // Under attack at Afghanistan's Seray outpost // Private Contractors' Role in Afghanistan To Grow With Awarding of Latest Contracts // Casualties of another war // Is Afghanistan a Narco-State? // Modeling Afghan Power Structures // Seven Years in Afghanistan:
From "War on Terror" to "War of Terror"
// the squatters we create…

[Image: A Kazakh officer showed a big map with a plan of the joint Kazakh-Russian millitary exercise at Otar military range in Kazakhstan. Photo: Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters (NYT).]


‘The rush to the intimate’ Counterinsurgency and the cultural turn (Derek Gregory) // Eyal Weizman: 665/The Lesser Evil // Future Warfare at Chatham House

[Image: iWarfare by mbym.]

Information Landscapes and the Feral City « ubiwar . conflict in n dimensions // Onward to a Hollow State // Homesick for Camp Justice // ‘The Dark Side’ by Jane Mayer - A History of Abuse in the War on Terror // Psychologists Vote to End Interrogation Consultations // America: The Global Pioneer Of Torture // Revealed: Britain's secret propaganda war against al-Qaida // Military Industrial Complex 2.0 // Making a Killing // Being in Base Denial

[Image: NYC Panopticon Plans Take Shape.]


Why is Google Earth Hiding Dick Cheney's House? // iSpy: National Security in the Era of Google Earth // Anti-Immigrant 'Bot Hears Heartbeats // Army Wants “First-Person Thinker” Video Game // Chertoff Hits the North Pole; Arctic Showdown Ahead? // Chinese Naval Bunker, Dumb Idea? // How Many 'Military Sites' Does the U.S. Have Abroad? // Military Study Looked to Rome for Lessons // Video of Clashes Between St. Paul Police and RNC Protestors Bubble Up Online // Democratic Convention: Live Audio of Denver Police // Countering Baghdad's 'Lob Bombs' // Spies-for-Hire Raking in the Cash (Updated) // Pentagon Researcher Unveils Warcraft Terror Plot // Russia's HAARP, Explored // NYC Panopticon Plans Take Shape

[Image: The Cans Festival - CCTV tree - Banksy (via).]


Public Space Not So Public in Downtown New York // JPL: Use Sats to Track Terrorists by Their Shadows // Fears over privacy as police expand surveillance project // Police warn UK man that taking photos of "hooded teenagers" is illegal // How to disappear without a trace // Britain will make foreigners carry RFID identity cards and will put us in a huge, Orwellian database: the rest of Britain will be next // China detains teacher for earthquake photos // Face swapper software protects privacy // Pruned: Agro-veillance // To deter crime, Los Angeles leaves the lights on // Infrared Camera is suited for security and surveillance., HGH Infrared Systems // Feds give customs agents free hand to seize travelers' documents // Homeland Security Detects Terrorist Threats by Reading Your Mind? // Cartoon depicts what went on in the NSA's wiretapping room at AT&T // Sandwich bag has fake mold printed on it to discourage thieves // Detection of Hidden Hostile/Terrorist Groups in Harsh Territories by Using Animals as Mobile Biological Sensors // Invisibility Cloak: Scientists Engineer Material That Can Bend Visible Light Around Objects // NYPD Sued Over Spycams; Video 911? // Blurred Out: 51 Things You Aren't Allowed to See on Google Maps // Lou Gehrig's Plaza

[Image: "Guantanamo Bay: Camp Delta recreation and exercise area with sunshades drawn." Via: Orhan's new gathering spot, Elseplace.]


Another project I’ve neglected to mention in the past few months now is a new book by Sharon Weinberger and Nathan Hodge, a husband-and-wife journalist tag team, both of whom write for Danger Room and have extensive backgrounds covering the defense industry in all its spectral weirdness. The book, entitled A Nuclear Family Vacation: Travels in the World of Atomic Weaponry is in some ways a subtopian dream come true. It is their sleuthy little adventure into the strange new world of secret atomic urbanism, populated by places and people taking clandestine refuge along the edges of perhaps where the Cold War landscape left off.

The project seemed to spawn initially from a run-of-the-mill assignment to the idea that, rather than taking tours of paradisal islands and pristinely manicured tourist getaways for vacation, what if lovers, partners, families, even, could pick up the trail of the world’s top secret nuclear bunkers instead? YES! Why not? As farcical as that may sound, it is just in fact what they did. And who wouldn’t want to go traipse around the globe sniffing out the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan, or Iran’s Esfahan Uranium Conversion Facility, the United States' Kwajalein military outpost in the Marshall Islands, not to mention “Site R,” a heavily fortified bunker known as the "Underground Pentagon," rumored to be Vice President Cheney's “undisclosed location” of choice?
Anyway, I still haven’t finished the book myself, but so far have found parts hilarious and others extremely enlightening, and thought before we move any further you should know about this good, good read. Sharon has drawn attention to it several times on Danger Room, so make sure to have a look.

How To: Visit a Secret Nuclear Bunker
Inside Sharon's Nuclear Family Vacation
Lawyers, Nukes, and Money: The Strange Case of Weldon's Russia Plan
Nuclear Vacationing: Next Year in North Korea?

[Image: Grimsel Test Site / Swiss 'playground' for radioactive waste.]

Urban Renewal and Partial Amnesia in Chechnya // War of the worlds (via) // Norad: Deep Inside NORAD, with Only a Felt-Tip Pen and Twenty Science Fiction Writers // Cold War Bunker Open for Tourism // 100ft down, the capital's cold war warren gives up its final secrets // Eco-friendly explosives? // Post-war prefab housing on the Excalibur estate // Balkanology: New Architecture and Urban Phenomena in South Eastern Europe // Secret history // Pruned: A Radioactive River Runs Through It // Swiss 'playground' for radioactive waste //Laying to rest Cyprus's ghosts // Stasi-themed bar in Berlin // commerce recolonising the death-strip // Army Looks to Build World's Strongest Solar Array // Army hands locals 3,300 acres at Fort Ord // US cold-war waste irks Greenland // An Abandoned Coastline Defense Canon Battery (Via)

[Image: The Doomsday Bunker: MoD's secret command centre // David Moore’s eye on the Pindar Bunker (Thanks Ardent!).]


Agency Fights Building Code Born of 9/11 // A City’s Police Force Now Doubts Focus on Terrorism // McCain's homeland security plan // 'Killing time' in Washington DC // Italian troops to patrol cities // New siren system in service at NY nuclear plant // Terror Plan Would Give F.B.I. More Power // City Tries To Curb 'Spite Landscaping' // Policing Ground Zero // Data-centers built out of sealed shipping containers filled with servers // When Shipping Container Architecture Goes Bad…Apocalypse Bad // Defensible space in Peru // Crime and urban design: Oscar Newman 36 years later // Convention Protesters To Be Treated As Terrorists // Free Speech Zone // U.S.S. Oriskany, Sunk by Navy, Used as Artificial Reef //

[Image: Facades built for Beijing, via You're not supposed to see this.]


The Olympics: Unveiling Police State 2.0 // Beijing to set up Olympic protest zones // China Sets Zones for Olympics Protests // China issues anti-terrorism manual for Olympic games // Why security is tighter in Beijing // Corporate complicity with the Great Firewall // Olympic logo cops enforce stupid rules with masking tape // Urban Regeneration: the Promise of Past and Future Olympic Games // A Struggle Between Security and Civil Rights at Beijing's Olympics

[Image: The Freedom Tunnel.]


BLDGBLOG: And the new White House is... // Reimagining the US Capitol // Half Dose #54: Pentagon Memorial // The Freedom Tunnel // Heavy-metal fence flap in Terra Linda // BLDGBLOG: Tactical Landscaping and Terrain Deformation // Walled Garden: … (in)equalities endorsed by technology [Amsterdam] // "Weaponizing" Architecture // Synthetic Pot as a Military Weapon? Meet the Man Who Ran the Secret Program // Anti-illegal-immigration group's sign back up on I-5 // Blackwater Plans Exit From Guard Work // Protests target Blackwater facilities // Grits for Breakfast: Galveston jail unprepared for Ike aftermath // Waiting for word on 1,000+ stranded at Galveston jail (Updated) // Hubris: Galveston Sheriff leaves inmates, deputies, in hurricane's path // Blackwater Preps for Hurricane Gustav // Old trailers trashed for new Border Patrol station // NAFTA Superhighway // Conflux 2008: notes from the panel Cartography of Protest and Social Changes // Reactivate!! Urban refuges and atomized garden // Office/MA: Black Urbanism // Animatronic waterboarding exhibit at Coney Island // Fear and waterboarding in Santa Monica // Border-Crossing: Passage Oublié // Guns for Texas school's teachers // Bid to allow guns in national parks // North Texas house burns because local authorities switched off hydrants "to fight terrorism" // InfraNet Lab: Terror Town®, Disaster City®, and now MoD City

[Earlier peripherals ... 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25]

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Of Declarations and the Immigrant Imaginary

Real quick, here's some bits and pieces on a few exhibitions I have already missed, or that I might still miss, or that are just in places between missed and missing; and, that if I could I would catch up to, or go back and visit. And it goes without saying, that I am sure I even missed a few others, too.

A Declaration of Immigration at the National Museum of Mexico Art in Chicago.

Declaration of Immigration

Human progress having been comprised by the lack of humanity and respect towards immigrant children, women, & men by anti-immigrant legislature & rhetoric, is reason for the National Museum of Mexico Art to re-affirm the following:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator, certain unalienable Right, that among them are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Immigrants have endured patient sufferance; and as such, it behooves our government to redeem itself from repeated injuries and usurpations, in recognizing:

• That we are a nation of immigrants
• That no human being is illegal
• That inhumane treatment, detention, deportation, and family separation by government agencies denies immigrants of their unalienable rights
• That historically, immigration laws began as a method of racial exclusion and currently exist to dehumanize immigrants, (i.e. immigration raids, internment camps) under the guise of national security, thus creating inter-ethnic tension and hostilities.
• That the construction of The Wall along the United States-Mexico borders would stand as a symbol of persecution, much like the 20th century Berlin Wall.

The Declaration of Immigration to all whom have marched and petitioned against anti-immigrant legislature & rhetoric. As well, the Declaration of Immigration is a reminder, to all those who have persecuted immigrants, of the circumstances of emigration and settlement in the United States of America.

With the Declaration of Immigration, we appeal to the U.S. sense of justice and magnanimity, and hope to conjure all by the ties of our common kindred to disavow anti-immigrant sentiments and support just laws that persons with dignity & respect.

Therefore, we solemnly resolve, and invite everyone to join in Solidarity:

• To stand by a government and elected officials that uphold laws that treat immigrants with dignity and respect.
• To reflect on the immigrant experience, as the experience of the United States of America, one that honors the history of the native nations, and the cultural contributions of all who live in this country.
• To engage in civic dialogue that is thoughtful, inclusive, and that speaks to the realities of immigration, rather than the exclusion of it.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance o the fellowship of all those that hold us goodwill, we mutually pledge to uphold the fight for equality and defend the unalienable rights of all.

National Museum of Mexico Art

More reading:

Art on the side of immigrants (Socialist Worker)
A Nation of Everybody: A Chicago art exhibit stirs dialogue on immigration reform (Miami Herald)
In Chicago, Art That's Yearning to Breathe Free (Washington Post)

"Laberinto de Miradas" (Labyrinth of Glances)

AP: From the fear-struck eyes of a Senegalese man waiting to scale a wire fence into Europe to the blank stare of a Russian housewife in Panama, a provocative exhibition setting off from Mexico explores the many faces of one of the world's pressing issues -- immigration.

The collection of photos and videos entitled "Laberinto de Miradas", or Labyrinth of Glances, will be shown in more than 20 countries over the next three years.

The ambitious project was the brainchild of Spanish photographer Claudi Carreras, who spent two years criss-crossing Latin America and Europe to go beyond the stereotyped news photos and capture the drama and deeper questions of identity facing those who leave home.

Event Blog

Caras Vemos, Corazones No Sabemos (Faces Seen Hearts Unknown): The Human Landscape of Mexican Migration

October 5–December 28, 2008 / Fowler Museum at UCLA

Caras vemos, corazones no sabemos/Faces Seen Hears Unknown: The Human Landscape of Mexican Migration considers Mexican migration into the United States—one of the defining factors in America’s and especially California’s socio-political landscape—as seen through Chicano/Mexican visual arts. Featuring paintings, works on paper, photographs, video, and installations, this bilingual exhibition explores the struggles and visions of migrants as well as the ways their spiritual practices are engaged during difficult journeys. More than forty artists—including Maria Elena Castro, Felipe Ehrenberg, Gronk, Salomón Huerta, Magú, Delilah Montoya, Malaquías Montoya, Victor Ochoa, and Patssi Valdéz—consider themes of journeys, boundaries and barriers, urban landscapes and human geographies, and the negotiation of identities in works dating from the 1970s to the present.

The title phrase “Caras vemos, corazones no sabemos” is taken from one of the most popular dichos, or sayings, in Mexico and in Chicano/Mexican communities in the U.S. It translates to “faces seen, hearts unknown,” and refers to superficial judgments made about people, based solely on appearances. This dicho cautions that in order to truly know a person or a community, one needs genuine access to their emotions. As such, this exhibition seeks to facilitate deep, human contact with the heart of Mexican migration to the United States.

The exhibition opens with an introduction to the general theme of the journey, and explores the mythical and everyday experiences of people immersed in migratory experiences. Christina Shallcross’s installation of votives covered with harsh scenes of border crossings provokes consideration of the meanings of migrants’ votive petitions for safe crossings. Also in this section is Malaquías Montoya’s iconic serigraph Undocumented (1981), in which barbed wire crisscrossing the image of a person is a direct reference to the walls, fences and wire mesh that divide Mexico from the United States. Humor comes into play, as well, in the work of comic creator Lalo Alcaráz, whose daily syndicated strip La Cucaracha provides a pop culture outlet for the expression and consideration of issues pertaining to Mexican migration.

The next section touches on the barriers and limits—physical, social, cultural, and geopolitical—that are found along migratory routes. Ricardo Duffy’s silkscreen The New Order casts George Washington as the symbol of the United States experience, while popular imagery such as the Marlboro logo, the Caltrans sign of undocumented immigrants running across a road, and a Western landscape littered with skulls depict a not-so-glorious American culture.

The works in the section “Human Geographies” explore the transformations of the migrants’ cultural values, institutions, and symbols. Everyday objects emerge as points of entry into a personal geography marked as much by the trauma of the crossing as by the faith in a prosperous and peaceful future. A new mixed media installation created by Maria Elena Castro for the Fowler’s presentation is titled Green, Go!, and addresses notions of immigrating for opportunity, as well as the clash of colliding identities and perceptions.

In “Negotiating Identity,” artists including Alejandro Almanza, Esperanza Gama, and Maceo Montoya examine the fragmentation, dislocation, and rearticulation of old identities into new and complex ones. In the final section visitors enter the realm of memory, where artists consider how we understand our past while positively moving into the future. Here six photographs from Dulce Pinzón’s whimsical yet poignant series La verdadera historia de los superhéroes (The True Story of Superheroes) depict comic book protagonists and masked Mexican luchadores in the most common of circumstances, washing clothes in a Laundromat, unpacking boxes of vegetables in New York, and working as doormen.

- UCLA Press Release

"Immigrant Imaginations and Imaginaries" by Tomás Ybarra-Frausto

In the places where we live and work we are conscious of evolving, trans-local economic and social processes. Worldwide circular migration patterns are a fact of daily life. "Having long boasted of being Mexico’s second city, Los Angeles now also has a Salvadorian population equal to or greater than San Salvador. New York City meanwhile, has almost as many Puerto Ricans as San Juan and nearly as many Dominicans as Santo Domingo, while New Orleans is the second city of Hondurans"1 ...and so it goes throughout the land. So where are Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador? The answer is that they are both "here" and "there." Through continual migration Latin America has seeped into the United States. The "Latinization" of our country and the "Americanization" of Latin America is a firm reality, and established notions of identity, belonging, and citizenship no longer correspond to the expected historical-social scenarios.

In the current social arena, migratory flows and the constant movement of people and ideas across hemispheric borders position contemporary Latino(a) experience and cultural expression as part of an incipient transnational imaginary. Today’s Latino(a) culture is nurtured within translocal spaces and is vibrant in the formation of new, mobile identities, nascent coalitions and solidarities, and possible social formations of connection, communication, and conciliation within national groups and across borders.

The exhibition Caras Vemos, Corazones No Sabemos/Faces Seen, Hearts Unknown is a comprehensive archive and imagebank that documents and validates artistic expression about immigration experiences between Mexico and the United States. The curatorial essays included here contextualize the artworks within social and aesthetic frameworks.

This prologue posits that the repertoires of visual art presented in the exhibition can be further contextualized by acknowledging the creative capacities of immigrant imaginations within a historical dimension, and by understanding the cultural dynamics of everyday life in contemporary transnational communities.


The Art of Jumping Fences :: Fronteres :: Three Exhibits: On Walls and Political Divide :: Strange New World :: MexiCali Style :: Non-borders, run-on borders, and anti-borders :: Just Space(s) :: US/THEM

Friday, October 10, 2008

From a Semi to a Fully Automatic Border

[Image: Security, surveillance and 'Super Sangars', MOD Defence News, 2008.]

So, what do you get when the British Army messes around with a few ISO shipping containers? Well, stack three, outfit the top one with bulletproof windows, then, rig a couple of daylight and thermal imaging cameras and a remotely controlled weapon station (RWS) that allows for some heavy dude machine guns to be fired by joystick from the inside, fence it off, and you got yourself one of these – the ‘Super Sangar’, a deadly new tower currently being used to protect forward operating bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Not exactly the kinds of “robotic snipers” we’ve spotted earlier creeping up in the NK DMZ, or along the IDF outposts in the West Bank, but perhaps part of the interim as military superpower continues its move more and more towards dependency on robotics and full scale automation. While the Super Sangar isn’t unmanned, it turns the turret into a kind of armored arcade made for war, at which point, perhaps (as we’ve dared speculate before), anyone with some badass joystick skills might be in there controlling this thing. I mean, I certainly don’t want to undermine the Army and the intense training that more than likely goes into manning such a tower, but it’s that bizarre architectural merger between gaming, robots, and warfare that continues to catch our attention, and this looming image of a war one day that could be fought by superpower from inside similar types of mobile military gaming cubicles.

[Image: Security, surveillance and 'Super Sangars', MOD Defence News, 2008.]

It's a crazy thought to be sure, that the Army might turn into a full fledged gaming industry in some future shifting its recruiting schema to professional gamers to man their evolutionary Sangar playstations instead of soldiers. I mean, the Army is already turning over control of some of their lesser sophisticated drones to their teen-aged recruits due to the minimal degree of aviation training that's apparently required to navigate them. I mean, every kid at some point flew model air planes with remote control, and now certainly a lage majority of today's youth have logged at least some time with the joystick. But, we’ve covered this silly scenario before here, so I won’t waste your time any further with that.

[Image: Security, surveillance and 'Super Sangars', MOD Defence News, 2008.]

However, over at CTLab Charli Carpenter offered a brief examination of roboticization in the context of asymmetric warfare and how it has in some ways been superpower’s response “to the types of humanitarian law violations commonly employed by a weaker enemy,” as if to say – well, if the enemy isn’t going to fight fair and according to the rules of engagement, then perhaps the military can develop a means of warfare that operates outside those same rules a bit as well. The ethical pursuit of “intelligent” robots in place of human controllers on the battlefield is of course highly contentious, as it should be. Can technology really be relied upon to make the right judgment as to what is and is not a fair target, to start, and then to actually pull the trigger? Then, to quote Carpenter: how will “responsibility for mistakes” be “allocated and punished,” and is “the ability to wage war without risking soldiers’ lives” a disincentive to resolve conflict peacefully?
Further, I would add, where does the military get off weighing the value of any one human life as being worth more than another? In other words, is saving the lives of soldiers worth the cost of potentially one innocent life fallen at the hands of a robot? The psychological superiority complex of a military that is willing to place the value of their own lives over others seems frighteningly absent from reflection here. Further, should the “enemy’s” less lawful warplay be allowed to substantiate justification for bending the rules of engagement? Do two wrongs make a right? I certainly don’t think so.
In light of how critics have responded to roboticization with these fears, Carpenter raised another point about how the collateral nightmare of nuclear weapons has in effect served as a deterrent for nuclear war, and therefore challenges us to consider if nuclear weapons on some level aren’t justifiable for having produced – to some extent – a neutralization of nuclear war. Could this same condition apply to battlefield robots, she asks. Could the threat of their imperfection and mistaken fatality convince the enemy not to engage in battle, therefore giving the battle bots some sort of positive role as a deterrent device? In her own words, “assuming valid ethical concerns over whether a particular category of weapons meets legal standards of discrimination and proportionality, to what extent should concerns over the likely political outcome of not developing them drive ethical discussions over whether they should be developed?”
I personally feel the deterrence value of nuclear weapons is not a useful comparison to help determine the value of warbots. Has the nuclear weapon truly paid off, brought peace, etc.? So far, it’s produced a volatile and precarious relationship between India and Pakistan, and ratcheted up the race for every other country now to have one, as their only chief source of security. Not to mention this paranoia now of them falling into the wrong hands. It leaves a background taste of immanent threat in the mouth of military conflict. We may have skirted nuclear disaster for now, but will we be able to do so forever just by lording them over each other’s heads? Especially, if and when other countries get them? What about the prospect of the “enemy” one day obtaining the same or similar battlefield robots of their own, where will that put future conflict, its “cleanliness”, or its chaotic potential?
I’m not at all suggesting that robots don’t have a useful role in a military capacity, clearly they do, but giving them the power to pull the trigger on their own is venturing into dangerous and irresponsible territory, if you ask me, that may open the door to a whole new world of mechanized logic and justifications for killing, and for enacting targeted assassinations – or, a “thanatotactics” (‘death tactics’) as Eyal Weizman has coined this type of logic as it is practiced by the IDF in Palestine.
Of course there is the sloppy collateral nature of battlebots to contend with, but I think as big a fear as that is the other side of the coin which is perhaps the extreme precision and capability they may bring to carry out executions from places and situations where soldiers may not be able to go themselves. And when that sort ability to attack and kill becomes more limber and precise, you have to be afraid of the type of serial killing and logic and ease for justifying targeted assassinations that could also emerge. The move to explore such literal killing machines places the trigger much too far out of the touch of the military’s humanity, if I can call it such. And when people don’t have to do the killing themselves it becomes a lot easier to instruct killing and to execute it, and even worse, to find cause and justification for it. It becomes an act of cold institutional administration rather than a moment of human judgment, and I don't think the state's apparatus for carrying out that type of premeditated murder that machines may one day allow needs to be expanded any further. Perfecting these types of weapons seems like a very slippery slope, and one I think the military should better avoid.

Also, for more reading:
'Military Omniscience'; America's robot army by Stephen Graham.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Scarecrow Empire

[Image: Via Brick House.]

Central to the effectiveness of any form of security is its ability to project power and to exponentialize its apparent sphere of influence beyond the verifiable boundaries of its control; to dupe people, essentially. Territory – as a material of power – succeeds in part not only because it marks its authority with definite radius but also its ability to transcend that same demarcation through a more fluid and illusory expansion of the imagination that defies the scrutiny of formal measure. Power, as a phenomenon, is as much a colonizer of the psychological landscape as it a producer or a product of the built environment. I mean, that’s one aspect, anyway – power’s ability to endure based on assumption, deception, and its occupation of the mind.

[Image: Via CTRLSTRG.]

As you know, the parameters of sovereign power aren’t simply a matter of coordinates on a map, recorded border geographies, or security zones strategically linked over a grid, but are a striation of imaginary longitudes and latitudes that more abstractly territorialize an insinuation of “evil” and “threat” through the making of culture, which helps in turn to justify the constitution of power’s alleged means for interdicting “evil” well within and beyond its own borders.

In the opening of his book The Colonial Present, Derek Gregory describes Edward Said’s concept of imaginative geographies this way:

These are constructions that fold distance into difference through a series of spatializations. They work, Said argued, by multiplying partitions and enclosures that serve to demarcate “the same” from “the other,” at once constructing and calibrating a gap between the two by “designating in one’s mind a familiar space which is ‘ours’ and an unfamiliar space beyond ‘ours’ which is ‘theirs’. ‘Their’ space is often seen as the inverse of ‘our’ space’: a sort of negative, in the photographic sense that ‘they’ might develop into something like “us,” but also the site of an absence, because “they” are seen to lack the positive tonalities that supposedly distinguish “us”. We might think of imaginative geographies as fabrications, a word that usefully combines “something fictionalized” and “something made real,” because they are imaginations given substance.

An idea you undoubtedly are familiar with already, but which also makes more obvious the notion that power is often exercised because its authority is unchecked and taken completely for granted, as it is a kind of ethos that populates thought, and in this sense it is the invisibility of the border that wields tremendous influence here, the dissolution of it; the border’s internalization and exportation beyond the site of the border itself and as anything but structurally visible. I guess in simpler terms, the point here is that a border often exists only because the public believes it does, and that is usually enough to contain or deter them.

[Image: Via The Subversion.]

Forgive my pseudo-academic rambling and redundant thought here, but as much as power is real and exists, it’s largely propped by this public consent that accepts power extends well into domains perhaps where it actually does not, and by a subsequent fear of consequences that come with transgressing such imaginary borders; because (and this isn’t groundbreaking psychology here) people—theoretically—are probably more easily controlled by the forces of what they don’t know and understand than by those they do, hence the richly cultivated ‘culture of fear’ that is so constitutive of American culture and makes for such an insightful and telling companion to neoliberal democracy. I guess I am just completely intrigued on an epistemological level by the cognitive development of that unconscious subservience to power that we all develop at some point that the larger forces of societal control largely depends on for its stability. To what degree we are trained to test power versus being shown to give into it, and how that plays out collectively in the form of organized community.

[Image: mojo robot project in san pedro, california, 2007, by christian moeller.]

It’s an ancient paradigm: for as visible as power likes and needs to make itself it also functions on a persistence of the unknown, as an act of imagination, and any spatial dimensions of it are (by and large, you could say), just a great scam that the general public willingly gives into—an Orwellian Oz works of smoke and mirrors.

[Image: NOPD Tower, Via Editor B.]

The performance of today’s wannabe omniscient panoptic urbanism with its millions of surveillance cameras stationed around the world, hinges on the same premise as those early symbols of power which have always dominated architecture from the Greek and Roman monuments of empire to the Catholic Cross, the Nazi swastika, to Saddam Hussein’s constant figurehead once seen in the streets of Baghdad everywhere.

The CCTV camera seems now to have absorbed and fulfilled the latest incarnation of this same tool of power in relation to architecture. The essence of which, however, rests on a similar collateral assumption: that people are perhaps more prone to being governed by the limits of power they fail to test than by those they successfully do, and are mostly made powerless by the disservice of their own imaginations, or lack thereof; a failure of autonomy.

[Images: Via Ben Terrett.]

This is surely a very obtuse way of saying something incredibly basic, I know, but I never stop finding it curious: the simplest ways in which institutional power is so easily able to derive itself by piggybacking on its own kind of void; that power is (in essence) someway the absence of itself, and how authority rests on a perpetual mythology that is commonly understood and accepted as truth which then fixes power to space. Perhaps on some level power is inscribed spatially merely by one’s belief in the ventriloquist theatrics of its masterful reverberative impostorship, and so along those lines I’m curious how architecture (or built space, in general) guides people to buy into the hollow clones of power; how architecture is power’s impostor, or its indelible stooge. Is it not the very submission to the limited ideas of space rather than the walls themselves that brings power and powerlessness into existence?

I don’t know, occasionally I get stuck in the middle of the street taking in everything around me, how it all abides by the evolution of a set of rules that have physically left their history in the morphology of the city. How the city is the constant folding of space into rule, into spatial and social order; space made to impose rule over us. Rules as the atomic structure of the city. I don’t know. A city today organized by logics of paranoia and securitization; the city enslaved to barrier, and so forth. Or, maybe in the words of Lebbeus Woods:

“the old cities were heterarchies made up of complex layers of buildings and open spaces, of uses and reuses, woven over centuries and generations into a living tissue of meanings, the old cities absorbed into the complexity the hierarchies that governed them, that attempted to force their life into rigid structures they had never been, and could never be.”

I can’t help noticing the city with all of its new battle gear and anti-terrorist accoutrement as being caught up in a giant foolish pose, an insidious and frankly embarrassing masquerade of security, like a colossal structural bouncer, cluttered with objects doing their best to avert my attention, or derail my curiosity, or just cast their gaze on me and make me feel exposed. Nearly every object and dimension of the city has been, as Micheal Sorkin phrases it, “deputized” in order to serve a dual purpose – from decorative functional object to a barrier against possible threat. Everything has got a double life as a security agent these days. It’s the city pretending to be both transparent and bulletproof at the same time, while it’s really hardly neither. I mean, at this point, the “terrorists” have completely succeeded and would not even need to strike any more because American society has already adopted a posture that lives in a constant state of terror. Bruce Schneier made this point bluntly but elegantly not too long ago:

“The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics.

The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want.”

So, I keep wondering about those (in)visible layers and facets of ‘space as a medium for social control’ that continue to grip us this way. Just how far does the great Oz’s fantastical urban curtain stretch? There is something so obliviously instinctive in our obedience to the whole thing that keeps me questioning what (if anything) am I missing, or failing to examine around me? What is slipping past my attention as I wander around the streets like a mindless cow? What am I leaving unchecked with regards to the way space is serving as a kind of agent of behavioral conformity, or exerting power through spheres of influence where the state or corporations for that matter do not have the right, per se, etc.? What decides the rights of authority in this arena in the first place? What is supposed to be the nature of public space anyhow? What am I failing to notice, and how does the state count on me blatantly overlooking this?

Of course, we all know power is in part transmitted by a sort of limitless capacity for suspicion that is shared by both the apparatus of security as well as those who are deemed its subjects – meaning, while power assumes everyone is a potential suspect it also functions on the subject’s own suspicion of the apparatus as being something potentially capable of an all-seeing, all-reaching respondent system for enforcing its jurisdiction beyond what is perceivable. Both power and subject of power rely on neither challenging the other, and therefore are bound in a strange kind of ongoing standoff, or a suspended moment of existential wait – a marriage of inaction – fundamentally paralyzed by their mutual uncertainty: that one will face perilous consequences, while the other will perhaps be exposed for its bombastic bluff of power.

[Image: The Penitentiary Panopticon or Inspection House, 1791 / © University College London Library, Bentham Papers 119a/120.]

It’s the essence of Bentham’s panopticon, I suppose, that power lives on the principle, as Foucault put it, “that it should be visible and unverifiable.” And because people are essentially predisposed to avoid fear it follows then that all power needs to do in order to expand its circuitry is to create an apparatus that induces a mere second of doubt in the mind of its subjects, to coerce that instinctive incapacitation that keeps them obedient, as they will then quickly move to avoid further confrontation with the unknown. The cognitive landscape there confounds me. What is the root of human aversion to fear? How long will we hide under our sheets from the boogeyman in the closet? Anyway, what better tool for the boogeyman now than our greater environment?

Again, to borrow from Foucault, the goal of power is to feature itself in such a way that it can assure ‘the automatic functioning and produce the homogeneous effects of power.’

it automatizes and disindividualizes power. […] Power has its principle not so much in a person as in a certain concerted distribution of bodies, surfaces, lights, gazes; in an arrangement whose internal mechanisms produce the relation in which individuals are caught up. […] A real subjection is born mechanically from a fictitious relation. So it is not necessary to use force to constrain. (source)

But, if this is the modern dictum of power’s conquest over space, then how long will the illusion work, and will the institution end up engineering a post-‘culture of fear’ frenzy of brazenly intrepid citizens and anarchist spatial hackers one day, seizing on the environment as a place to be continuously tested, violently more often then not? Aren’t we already kind of there anyway, or have we just always been? Isn’t this just part of the natural social friction that takes place in spaces engendered by institutional or colonial power? And the more the surveillance net extends itself, the greater the canvas for subversion becomes. If we consider the prison/panopticon scenario: how long would it take, I wonder, the inmates after not ever seeing an actual prison guard before deciding to test the surveillance efficacy of the panopticon? What would Plato’s prisoners in The Cave really do if they had the option of escaping? At what point does a citizenry begin to challenge the regime of spatial political power, or biopower that constitutes its urban reality? Or, its political system, for that matter? What are theoretically the conditions required for a revolution of spatial regime change; and how can space be subverted this way? How does space encode and enforce politics – the politics of fear – and how through space and urban intervention can the course of politics be renegotiated? If architecture represents a culture’s body of knowledge, a spatial archive of its histories and truths and an embodiment of its greater meaning, then what does all of this security space suggest about the west’s epistemological evolution? Or, devolution, as the case may be? If the city is the product of a society’s progress, a living museum of its growth in identity and humanity, what can be said for today’s “indefensible space”?

I don’t know, I’m obviously no theorist, and am not even really sure what I’m asking at this point, and there are likely a million precedents for answering such questions already, which all kind of lead me back to a more overarching philosophical question over the use of violence, and when (or under) what conditions it may ever be justified. I know good old Wild Bill Vollmann certainly has a lot to say on the subject, a question pitted at the core of humanity’s struggle, no doubt. But, it’s the architectural extension of that question that’s got me right now, and what the architect’s role, if any, may be in violent political upheaval – or, how architecture itself enacts violence, pacifies or circumnavigates it. More so, how can space be used as a tool for revolution? Or, how are political regimes cast in space, and how can the built environment be used to shift the gravity of power towards a politics of space that restores the democratic ideals of humanity’s best public urbanism, and what Henri Lefebvre wrote about as “the right to the city”?

Extracting Lebbeus Woods’ wisdom again, “Architecture, the very model of precision and self-exalting intelligence, should not fear its union with what has been the lowest form of human manifestation, the ugly evidence of violence. Architecture must learn to transform the violence, even as violence knows how to transform architecture.”

It’s something I’ll try to return to later as I get back to posting (sorry for the recent hiatus): the role of architecture – not just in political violence – but as a platform for redistributing power, systemic transformation, cultural uprising, overthrow, resiliency, regime change, counter culture and anarchist movements, both from the perspective of spatial practitioners and designers as well as a point of view that observes the ways space is used and can be reused for the same effect. Can architecture serve as a non-violent weapon for political revolution? Who knows, maybe that sounds like an absurd question.

* * *

[Image: Optical illusions used as virtual speed humps / Telegraph, 2008.]

Anyway, wow – after all that. I want to point out these funky facades I spotted a while back that are being used in Philly, and before that Arizona (apparently in all seriousness) to help enforce some semblance of road safety via optical illusion, that got me thinking about all of this power-as-a-flat-impostor-of-itself stuff in the first place. Not a new concept by any stretch, but their artistry – if anything – might deserve a little attention here, more so than they were designed to attract, I’m sure.

Since they’re obviously meant to gain your attention long enough in so far as to quickly steer it towards obeying the speed limit, it’s funny then that these displays might actually produce the opposite effect once realized for the silly little farces they are – at which point, they make me kind of want to go check them out, up close and in detail, if just to appreciate their ability to have fooled me for a second.

These optically-faked speedbumps, or “virtual humps” as they are called, are actually pretty cool, I think, but seemingly would only work as long as it took someone to realize they didn’t actually exist, and that they are purely an illusionary tactic, which would be upon first encounter, I presume; unless you’re just some oblivious idiot, in which case you probably shouldn’t even be on the road in the first place. But perhaps that is precisely the point: not that people are idiots, necessarily, but that these virtual humps could actually succeed because people aren’t paying enough attention. It’s ironic, to say the least, then, that they’re success would rely in part on a driver’s lack of attention. And, similarly, a lot of the success of power (political or otherwise) is simply due to a failure to pay attention; a point I don’t think can ever be made enough. Though, you might also make the argument that these virtual humps would actually draw such attention that drivers would be distracted in order to examine them and potentially make themselves more dangerous or vulnerable to accidents. So, go figure.

Perhaps these faux-barriers kind of symbolize the shallow nature of a more broad proliferation of security features these days – or, non-features, I should say: I’m thinking about things like fake surveillance cams in store windows, random warning signs; or, you know, even those silly plastic chirping hawks that are situated on urban perches to help ward off pigeons that usually (from my vantage) get outwitted in a matter of days. Those stupid things just seem so symbolic. But such an object could even be the creation of a new position within the Dept. of Homeland Security, I suppose, or that silly colored terror threat level meter. I can’t help but to trip on how much useless junk is planted in the environment, on the peripheries of our attention span, that pretends to do some job, lord over us in some way, act as if we owe them for guarding something or protecting us, as if all this junk has a noble or civic purpose in life – when really all it’s doing is just squatting there and taking up space like a strewn empire of crap, and making you feel at any moment a tragedy or a horrible disaster is about to occur from around the corner.

Now, post 9/11, there is even more of this spectacular tinsel barricading to contend with. Homeland Security has completely matted our cities in defensive architectural product – and I’m tempted to call it all a “scarecrow urbanism” – designed less to prevent than to just ward off the foolish crows who would do the city harm. But “evil” is a bit more adept than that, I’m afraid, and you’d think the government would respect its enemy a little more by now. Not to mention, the psycho-authoritarian effects of the ubiquitous barricade on the city’s inhabitants, which may actually be more to the point of all this stuff.

[Image: Police unveil cardboard cops, Vancouver Sun, 2008.]

Check these dudes out. Love ‘em. Wuh’zupp occifers? Got get ‘em O’Malley!

Another favorite I came across are these life-sized mannequins of Taiwanese soldiers kickin’ it in a bunker. If there were any less action, we might even mistake the actual Korean soldiers who watch over the DMZ for mannequins themselves. It’s hilarious! I wonder how long these guys have been there – or if anyone ever tends to them. You know, cleans ‘em up bit, repositions their arms every now and then, gives them fake little cigs to puff on occasionally, or something. After all, these war puppets got a life to live, too!

[Image: Guards Go Stiff at Local Army Base / Live Leak.]

Has to be one of the oldest strategies in the book, right? – the art of the military decoy. From the Sphynx to The Amazing Camouflage Deceptions of World War II, to those eerily disguised conspiracy dwellings and transformer houses Geoff wrote about a ways back. But these, I don’t know, are almost just pure comedy, like props from a tacky prank. So deliciously absurd compared to the more clever imbrications of security and design we see today blending landscape and public space (projects as far as I’m concerned are urban weapons made acceptable only by their aesthetics). When you think about the cloaking devices that researchers and other think tanks are developing – materials that may one day literally bend light around objects rendering them practically invisible – these cheap-ass little figurines are like precious future antiques from a very old world of military urbanism. I think I want one.

Of course, the Army’s brave new world of stealth engineering costs big bucks, and with the American military severely overburdened these days, and the speedbumps that have have finally burst the bubble of the American economy, perhaps these façade-works represent another cheaper security frontier lurking around tomorrow’s corner.

Actually, I’m surprised lenticular technology hasn’t been more harnessed beyond advertisements and such. I don’t know, maybe the technology isn’t half as advanced as I’d like to think it is, or nearly cheap enough to be deployed as any kind of believable projection of security objects that aren’t really there, not near anything capable of mimicking a kind of holographic fortress imaginary. But it’s not difficult to consider the incredible lenticular potential for architecture; buildings with extraspatial extensions that could jut out over the street when seen from a specific angle, hallucinatory bollards, barricades that emerge right in front of your eyes as you walk around certain buildings, open space cities that shift into fortified metropolises when glimpsed from a series of precise vantages; strolling through the farmers market could have far more deviant implications than first appear. From a militaristic perspective, surely there is a sinister mind out there plotting and planning the kinds of shifting projections that could stalk you from a place of non-reality, make a building seem much more secure than it really is, or even appear out of nowhere when it is not, or occupied when it is empty, etc. Making the enemy see things that aren’t really there, like urban mirages, phantasms of counter-insurgency, ghost-limbs of architectural defense, and so forth.

Back to the indebted future of the American economy, for a minute. It often seems the only thing that powers it is a titanic war machine bent on the business of perpetual conflict. Where would the U.S. be without its military economy? Will the military-industrial-complex eventually reach its own breaking point and grind to a halt one day, too? What is the forecast for American militarism around the world anyway and where will that leave the economy of “the greatest nation on earth” two hundred years from now?

Fast forward to a day when the war machine, by its own necessity, has had to drastically minimize production, having attempted to fulfill a hubris of being the globe’s single police force, it is now forced (for its own survival) to take a goliath step backwards as resources have grown dangerously scarce and hundreds of thousands of soldiers starve having been spread powerlessly thin around the world.

What if, one day the military arm of empire – in a last ditch effort to maintain its show of power – decides to change its strategy entirely and rely on an industrial complex of sophisticated 3D printers and Xerox machines instead, so that future armies of imperial conquest could be recalibrated using high-end papers, battle-tested inks, layered cross-sections of weather proof resins, that would slowly and secretly replace the active duties of real men? In other words, in its attempt to withdraw (without completely withdrawing), empire decides to launch a covert campaign to swap out from key locations its live bodied brigades with carefully placed life-sized posters, custom stand-ups, and mannequins of its toughest men the enemy has ever glimpsed. Could a marvelous militaristic façade do the same job in places, for example, where fighting is irregular and mostly the military is just used to occupy space along contentious borderozones, but for much cheaper, the Pentagon wonders? Old donated Hollywood animatronic puppets that have already fulfilled a life of heroic stardom onscreen suddenly start to serve their country in a stint of patriotism out in the real field. It’s ridiculous, of course, but picture some sort of rejuvenated Alf-gone-Rambo-like puppet out there in the jungles of Indonesia scarecrowing for its retirement.

Anyway, suppose, in this incredulously preposterous future, the balance of global political power somehow became weighed upon these incredible supplies of recycled papers, polymers and foams, and laser jet prints instead of military hardware? The recycling industry would grow insurmountably. Much of America’s suburban junk could be repurposed to form garbage-made men camped out on the frontlines. Instead of going to war, Uncle Johnny at home now could just upload a print out of himself in his most menacing pose and uniform and gain the same respect as any other war hero who fought for his country. It’s not a geopolitics of treatise or contested foreign policy anymore, but the strategic façade shenanigans of moving cut-out military grunts, armed dummies, billboard platoons, perforated recruits barely able to stand up to a good gust of wind, around the battlefield. It becomes a simple game of chess again. What if empire, in order to salvage itself, had to stoop to a world of cardboard-enforced occupation, counterfeit generals, look-a-like dictators, sign-post wars, and new terracotta armies cast from Styrofoam, in order to maintain its awesome projection of power?

And, even more strangely, what if during this massive transition war sort of became bored with itself and violence decided to just take a break, as if the empire’s reluctant demilitarization somehow led to a calm pacification of the battlefronts – imagine that!! What if it actually worked??? Cease fires seemed more popular, and the world of conflict became a frictionless cartography of useless border posts, absurdist standoffs, idle checkpoints, superfluous lines in the sand, while a few delirious soldiers are left to their posts like relics without official word of any war being over, or conflict having come to end. Empire toeing its line over a world held in check by a cheap trick installation of paper stormtroopers.

[Image: Hot Rod Border Facades, by Ronen, 2008.]

[Image: Russia Expands Inflatable Arsenal, Via Danger Room.]

* * *

So there you are one day woken in the same place you’ve awoken in the woods for months now, maybe years. You’ve been rattled from a long hibernation you’ve felt vaguely awake for the whole time, actually. Your overcoat has holes in its elbows and the Border Patrol patch on your arm is so worn it’s barely legible and just tears off when you scratch your lice infested beard. You can’t even recall the name of the area you’ve been stationed to anymore; your memory is dull, devoid of its usual referents – it’s a bunker lit by a dim flashlight and a few candles and it’s horribly inadequate at this point. The sounds of the woods have been the only thing that have mattered for a long time – you delight in them. In fact, you’ve literally developed these raspy feelers out of your head that let you appreciate the exceptional soundtrack of wherever the hell it is you are out there in the middle of nowhere on an insect level.

Roaming around the faded edges of your bunker where you’ve marked your territory thousands of times already, you wonder now if you are the last bastard on earth and if staying here is just your sorry ass fate, or what.

For more weeks than you can count you’ve lived off assorted bottled drinks, canned and powdered junk food dropped from a supply chopper every few days in the morning at sunrise with absolutely no communication from the pilots whatsoever, though their visits have been growing sparse, and this morning they did not show up again, and all you have to show for you life at this point is an barely conceivable mound of plastic and canned waste. You’re desperately emaciated, paper thin. You’ve just been doing your job as you were told ages ago, obediently watching over this notoriously dangerous and fertile migration zone, despite the fact you yourself have never seen a single soul attempt to trespass anywhere in the vicinity. You have all this time up until now been happy with that fact, but what you wouldn’t give just to here the footsteps of some stranger creeping through the woods at this point. You begin to think you’re leper, or have some catastrophically contagious disease. Your technology is dead and no one came to check on you.

Everything around you is hideously overgrown as it should be, from the thickets and brush around your campsite to the dewy forest of your eyebrows and wild nose hairs. There is a wall of flora alongside the concrete buffs of your bunker, so high now it might be easy to just walk right past it without even noticing the rest of the mossed-over structure. Little deer, or some furry four legged mammals, love to come nibble on the scrumptious flower buds that have spawned by what once was a boggy entry into a nearby tunnel you were told only to enter as a last resort for escape. You pull out weeds, try to find its opening, but the hole cover can’t be found for the life of you. You doubt whether it even exists: were you really told about this, or was this your imagination all along? You know you are losing it, and fast.

Alone in these ridiculous trenches of occupational meaninglessness and servitude, you decide today’s the day to take a long hike back to the main checkpoint to get some scoop on what the hell the status of the conflict is, and whether you can finally just go home back to your precious monkey and your dog. Bumbling along old tangled paths that are barely visible anymore, the forest is as fresh and grown over as it has ever been, vibrant and green on some pre-human level. It’s wet, it stinks, your nose can’t get enough of it. You’re high and it feels great.

At first, there’s no sign of human settlement anywhere, no foul stench of war, not even so much a piece of trash or rusted gun shell, just nature flourishing perfectly in the morning sun by herself. You can see the tree limbs bending towards the light, rising in the heat, the ferns moving even though there is no breeze or critters in sight. Stupid to say, but it’s magic.

Along the way cutting through geometric panes of fallen light that dissects the woods, finally, you see the dark silhouettes of two soldiers just hanging out, idling once like you did as if frozen in time, forgotten, either on high alert, or stuck motionless taking the kinds of ceaseless pisses you take alone in the woods. You stop instantly, unsure if they are one of “us” or one of “them”. The silence and suspense of this ambiguity drives you backwards all the way to your bunker. There, you convince yourself they were scouts from the other side.

Somehow you sleep, then wake up again like you always do, stomach caving in on itself, and decide to venture back to the spot where you saw the two enemy soldiers hanging out. As soon as you get there, you spot them again, in the exact same position. It’s incredible, they haven’t moved at all. You get closer to identify them, and start to believe they’re the good guys.

You’re not sure if calling to them would blow their cover, endanger yourself, or what. But you’re thrilled just to see human life, even if they haven’t moved a bit since you spotted them the day before. So, you creep up on them, anxious to say hello but not get shot in the process. Since you haven’t really stalked anything real now for months your unpracticed foot busts a twig that sounds for miles, and you’re forced to stop dead in your tracks; and just like that, you’re back to being a lame-ass dummy of yourself squatting there in the woods with no one to hear you crap, because, they don’t budge. You even call to them, ‘Hey!’-- but still, they ignore you.

Moving closer you hear an odd material crackling and crunching under your boot. You kick some dirt aside (is it that damned tunnel entrance?) and find it’s actually one of them, flat on their back, staring up at you with a face half peeling off from itself. Finally, you discern that it’s a ridiculous print out of some jerk’s face plastered to a poster-thin cutout. He’s got binoculars. He’s eyeing you. WTF?

You walk over to the two shadows you were approaching only to find they, too, are strange posters of your comrades. One of them you even recognize as an old bunk mate! That jerk, where is he now?

And this would be just the beginning. As you venture out further from your post en route to headquarters you would come to find the forest completely littered with these flimsy characters, fixed in stupid positions, aiming rifles at nothing, standing tall or hiding down low on one knee for no reason at all. Tons of them, guarding nothingness. They’re up in the trees, floating down a creek, huddled around what looks like an old campfire, some are even positioned to be having sex with each other, for christ’s sake. They’re just as proud when they’re snapped in two.

[Image: "Chicago" is an Israeli Defense Force urban warfare training facility in Israel, photographed by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin.]

Even more strange, there are a few dummies printed from the other side. Some guerrilla fighters, and other silly characters. Up until now you had no idea what the enemy really looked like. This one makes you chuckle.

You’re starved, delirious, but somehow not quite as alone as you once thought you were, or maybe you feel more alone than ever. But you try to gain confidence from these paper mercenaries knowing that someone must have situated them, and therefore real people must be nearby. You start racing through the woods into open meadows you think might be recognizable, but all around you are skittering squirrels and flat-faced mannequins brandishing folded gun barrels held by half-torn limbs. The closer you think you get to home the more target Tom, Dick and Harries you find staring back at you as if you were the enemy.

You're light on your feet and the forest is hunting you. You almost consider going back to your post to escape their relentless gaze, but it’s too late now. Is this some sort of training facility, you ask, mustering the last shreds of rationality your brittle brain can afford. Have you wandered into an outback Mecca of target practice, the periphery of some MOUT utopia? You haven’t heard any shots, nor do any of these spineless bastards have holes in their heads. Is this a joke; some kind of company hazing, or initiation? Is this is a test of your loyalty to your outpost? Will you suffer for abandoning it? Should you go back?

You wander the remains of this lost borderlands past graveyards of broken easels and windblown facades, following a slippery trail of fallen soldiers worn away like stickers in the rain, until miles later you finally exit the woods to find your old base camp devoid of everyone. It is now a feeble shell of a structure bombed out by the weather.

[Image: "Chicago" is an Israeli Defense Force urban warfare training facility in Israel, photographed by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin.]

All you find left are piles of your old friends, delicate impostors of your superiors, laid flat, partially torched, folded, broken, stacked, half-assembled, unused – the whole thing looks like a vault full of stashed dummies, an abandoned storage unit for an undiscovered test site; it’s as if you’ve wandered into a military installation from a children’s pop-up story book that you can’t escape. There’s no one really there, just these grainy black and white apparitions of your old buddies scattered all over the place like a house of cards caught in the wind.

Walking around your foot slips into the ground. It’s the entrance to a secret tunnel. You climb down until you reach a floor. Awaiting you there is a faint figure. You strike a match and there you appear in two-dimensions crouching in the dark – a full-scale poster of yourself from a photo taken back when you first arrived. You were so gung ho then, so different. You’re aiming your machine gun straight at yourself now but no one can pull the trigger. The match catches the tip of the barrel and in a matter of seconds you start to burn.