Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Atomic Monarch (Danaus Plexippus: Plutonium Lepidoptera)

Back to insects and war. Defense Tech adds this beautiful specimen to the Entomomechanophilic Army, the Atomic Monarch. It was this New York Times' article How to Listen for the Sound of Plutonium, that alluded to "robotic butterflies" which could be designed "to monitor an atomic site while appearing to flutter by innocuously." Sound far fetched? Well, the robo-obsessed tweakers over at DARPA have such a program that hopes to reify an entirely brand new species of mechanical insects and nano-drones that could be used for any number of military operational purposes.

{Image: Monarch Butterflies, AP]

[Image: (Bugbios). Like airstrips of thousands of tiny fighter planes all lined up, these innocent-looking nuke-sniffing Danaus Plexippus' quietly wait to be deployed on their next operation.]

"Looking for novel ways to spy on its enemies, the Pentagon wants a drone that’s smaller than the Monarch butterfly, lighter than the Goliath beetle, and faster than the Hawk moth." The Red Herring desribes the NAV (nano-air vehicle) Program (pdf), which calls for "an unmanned plane no larger than 7.5 centimeters in any direction, a maximum weight at takeoff of 10 grams—about the heft of a ballpoint pen—and a top speed of up to 10 meters per second. The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is expected to act like a flying sensor, taking video, for example, or sniffing the air for chemicals."

Check out AeroVironment's drones: The Wasp (a half-pound UAV that runs on batteries) | The Hornet (half-pound, fuel cell-powered UAV).

[NYT: "Emplacing unobtrusive reconnaissance/surveillance sensors in remote or special high-security areas also demands sophisticated means for delivery. [NAVs] may provide an effective means for precision delivery and emplacement of small, multi-element sensor packages to locations of interest."]

And, in case you were worrying about domestic use: “A typical police department can’t purchase and maintain a Predator,” one expert said. "But an inexpensive UAV that fits inside the trunk of a police cruiser could be a hot seller, especially as U.S. Department of Homeland Security money trickles down to metropolitan police departments." So beware of lazy things resembling monarchs swimming through the air, you might be the next unsuspecting star of another bugged out season of COPS.

See these earlier Subtopia posts for more background:
The Entomomechanophilic Army and Withus Oragainstus.

Tent City Urbanism

[Image: Bulding in a Bag, 18 Mar 2005 by Raymond Powers]

When this project first broke out in the media last year, the blogowans ate it up for its innovative application of concrete and structural flexibility to disaster-torn landscapes. A brilliant design, Concrete Canvas is the invention of two British engineers who have been stacking up numerous awards for it, namely the Saatchi & Saatchi Award for World Changing Ideas just a few days ago. It's a prefabricated concrete bag folded inside a giant sack. Intructions for use are as difficult as: 'Add water, cut sack, unfold concrete bag, and inflate a central bubble to support the tent until it dries.' Simple, smart, addresses key durability and user friendly issues, and actually covers a full 16 sq meters. They look like supersized concrete igloos, or insta-bunkers, crude pop-up architecture for a ballooning global refugee urbanism.

[Image: Inflatable Concrete Forms Shelter, Discovery Channel, 2005]

But, as big interest has developed and a desire to test them more liberally in the field, some experts are shying away from the concrete canvas with what sounds like some good sense practical skepticism.

Alternet reported a few days ago: “At first sight it looks marvelous,” said Rishi Ramrakha, a logistics officer at the British Red Cross Society. “But the real practicalities look a bit difficult.” According to Ramrakha, there are several central problems. First, the unit is too heavy to be carried easily into areas where there might not be access for aircraft or trucks. The second is the amount of water needed to erect each tent. “Where are you going to get 145 liters in a disaster zone?”

Displaced populations are accommodated in temporary shelter because they will eventually be encouraged either to go back to where they came from, or to make homes and a new life in a better place. The construction of permanent structures, particularly in conflict zones, could hamper that process."

It's a good point, one no one can seem to resolve just yet: how to build temporary shelters in balance with longer range housing relief programs, so that the shelter neither encourages an extended-temporary use nor fails to meet the immediate impact needs for not having been the most intelligent shelter system we were capable of building. So, maybe this is a good medium - deployable concrete. Or maybe it's just a deeper sign of even our sincerest efforts ironically cementining the Tent City crisis in a post-disaster ignorance of failed planning and continual site paralysis.

See these other 'flexible concrete' projects: Communist Block Renaissance | Grancrete | Light transmitting concrete | Heat-sensitive and communicating concrete | Houses built by robot | Carbon-Eating Cement | Bendable concrete | AFH (Rethinking Tent City) | Concrete graves a hazard to us all | Tent City, USA

Monday, January 30, 2006

Post-apartheid carceral territoriality

What does a post-apartheid state in South Africa look like today?
In case you were wondering, no new magical system of political integration has swept through and dissolved those kinds of epic borders over night, nope, that's for sure. In fact, Robert points to the IRIN who claim "950,000 black South Africans have been illegally evicted from white owned farms in the 10 years since the end of apartheid - 200,000 more than were evicted during the final 10 years of the former regime."

The National Eviction Survey estimated roughly 1.75 million people have been evicted since 1985, and forced to migrate to the networks of squatter cities and the instant shanty metropolises that amazingly manage to go on reassembling themselves across the country. It certainly looks like Johannesburg's squatters are the builders of the future.

Well, to further illustrate evidence of an "apartheid-present", filmmaker Neill Blomkamp has produced a couple of short provocative videos that capture in a very surreal way some of the stark racial complexions of a post-apartheid carceral landscape, depicting a sort of projected urban alien enslavement through extra terrestrial refugees rioting in Joburg, tentacled energy siphoners and meat thieves, hospitalized bacteria victims (which conjures a brilliant cross between Elephant Man, Rubber Johnny, and Johnny Got His Gun), and video game-like robotic police hunting down squatters in a shanty impersonation of Boba Fett. Or, as The Observer captures well in this meaty article, "For a growing number of Afrikaners, the new South Africa is an alien world of squatters' camps and begging bowls ... mushrooming all over the country."

[Image: Soweto]

"Shanty towns often materialize on the outskirts of South Africa's cities over night: a single shack quickly multiplies to 10, until the once empty landscape is transformed into a sprawling network of corrugated iron dwellings for the poor." [IRIN]

"In predominantly white areas...in an urban environment this usually means living behind high walls and metal gates. More up-market homes are protected by razor wire, electrified fences, security guards, dogs and surveillance cameras." [The Observer]

[All images (except 'Soweto') were taken from 'Alive In Joburg' and 'Tempbot', produced by Neill Blomkamp (Spyfilms).]

Personally I am blown away by these images, like glimpsing a filmic spectrum of oversaturated military urbanism, a truly unreliable visual medium. I don't know, though, pretty visionary composite of genres, and the animation is used brilliantly, which you can see more of in his ultra clean Citroen commercial.

Neill Blomkamp's Videos: Alive in Joburg | Tempbot

Also see: Gated Communities in South Africa

(Thanks to Boing Boing and wmmna for the links)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

a 'Pet Rock' for her Majesty's Secret Service

Well, in case you missed it, Putin just kicked over a spy rock in Moscow, a real Hollywood job packed with transmitters, which apparently fed UK diplomats sureptitiously standing around storing and trading data with it over palm pilots. A second rock was supposedly disposed of by British agents before it could be found.

[The Rock is much more, uh....sophisticated than the CIA's older and more crude Pet Log used back in the Vietnam War, don't you think? Certainly more British. You can see the Dog Doo Transmitter on display at The Spy Museum in Wahington, DC.]

The sad thing is that this story corroborates a deep suspicion of NGO's working in Russia, who are being clamped down on by a new law that disempowers foreign funding of activist organizations there. The law returns that authority to Russia's security branch, while the NGO's are seen as corrupt and used to incite civil unrest that is favorable to the west. Regardless, Putin admitted, "But if we send them away (the British Spies), more will come. Maybe clever ones will come. And we will have to struggle to find them. Let's think about it." What, rocks weren't clever enough? Do you want them to send you Spy Flowers next time? A bugged silver platter to serve your corruption on, Putin?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Battlespace Media

Adam Brookes wrote a revealing article today on a newly declassified document from the Pentagon called "Information Operations Roadmap" (pdf). It was obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University using the Freedom of Information Act. This is Rumsfeld's blueprint for "a far-reaching overhaul of the military's ability to conduct information operations and electronic warfare. And, in some detail, it makes recommendations for how the US armed forces should think about this new, virtual warfare."

From the BBC: The document says that information is "critical to military success". Computer and telecommunications networks are of vital operational importance: public affairs officers who brief journalists, psychological operations troops who try to manipulate the thoughts and beliefs of an enemy, computer network attack specialists who seek to destroy enemy networks.

It acknowledges that "Information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and Psyops, is increasingly consumed by our domestic audience."

It also recommends that Psyops personnel should consider a range of technologies to disseminate propaganda in enemy territory: unmanned aerial vehicles, "miniaturized, scatterable public address systems", wireless devices, cellular phones and the internet.

When it describes plans for electronic warfare, or EW, the document takes on an extraordinary tone. It seems to see the internet as being equivalent to an enemy weapons system. "Strategy should be based on the premise that the Department [of Defense] will 'fight the net' as it would an enemy weapons system," it reads, and contends that US forces should be able to "disrupt or destroy the full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors, and weapons systems dependent on the electromagnetic spectrum".

Also see:
Subtopia: Good Buildings, Bad Buildings :: GoogleMapping War :: The Panoptic Arcade

In the media:
3 groups have contracts for pro-U.S. propaganda :: Has 'War' become a leading brand for United States? :: U.S. Military Unclear on 'Planted' Stories :: Military Explains News Propaganda in Iraq :: US military stories are ads :: The al-Jazeera Dodge :: Military's Information War Is Vast and Often Secretive: Politics, Iraqi Style: Slick TV Ads, Text Messaging and Gunfire :: Hey kids, it's Uncle Hazim Time! :: Militants' new tack in cyber war :: Retooling after 9/11, the CIA starts to blog to mine the Web for useful, public information

Friday, January 27, 2006

Humanitarian Colonialism

Touted as a "preventive medicine" model for the way the 'War on Terror' should be fought, the American Military has boasted "waging peace" in eastern Africa through its Combined Joint Task Force - 'Horn of Africa' project, which claims to have a lesser reliance on machine guns and frag grenades than it does on the old hammer and nail for its success. Instead of combing villages with all-night patrols and kicking down doors in search of suspected terrorists, this unit has been busy building schools and clinics, digging wells, building bridges and basic infrastructural needs for villages that lie in the greater "ungoverned" areas surrounding war torn Somalia, an area seen as potentially becoming a fertile grounds for militant extremism as instability continues to froth in the region.

In 2002, more than 1,500 US troops were sent to the former French colony of Djibouti, which has long been a strategic link between Africa and the Middle East for oil and trade. Their mission has been to weed out the spread of Al Qaeda in East Africa, having experienced numerous terrorist attacks in recent years, and seemingly fallen prey to a rising tide of jihadi influence. The U.S. fears the potential of a united extremist front creeping up between Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. However, today, the operation has evolved out of a military one and into a more Peace Core approach to real community building. Major General Timothy F. Ghormley oversees the deployment of this sort of "voluntary military urbanism" effort as a way to drain any terrorist recruiting wells, safe havens, and instead irrigate the anti-western landscape with a good-willed American brand of missionary-style civil-engineering. Sort of like a humanitarian colonialism, I suppose. Or doin' the superpower squat, you might call it.

While the program has built a noble foundation of rural amenities for villages desperately in need, critics have pointed out this type of good American image-building in the outer lying areas does nothing to address the roots of fundamentalist extremism harboring at the core of Somalia. Some claim it is nothing other than a PR stunt while American soldiers there protect certain oil interests from growing instability, cozying up to the future oil barons of the region. Others contend, that such an effort would not be permitted by the U.S. if it were being done so the other way around. Imagine if Al Qaeda had beaten us there, and were already conducting their own humanitarian urbanism projects to win over the tolerance of the locals. Maybe that is what they have been doing all along. But what if, theoretically, a group like Hamas (now officially Palestine's ruling party) or, if even a lesser extreme group had taken to building schools and healthcare clinics in deprived Latin American areas in order to gain favorability with the people there, (fanning an anti-Americanism), would the U.S. respect that as a humanitarian action, or merely an architectural tactic for spreading terrorist propoganda? Wouldn't it be seen as a direct occupational move disguised through a type of militant activism to undermine our stability?

Also see:
Subtopia: We Build – We Fight

In the media:
To fight Al Qaeda, US troops in Africa build schools instead
U.S. Servicemembers ‘Waging Peace’ on Horn of Africa
NPR: Waging Peace in War on Terror
A quiet battle against militants in ‘Horn’

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Smugglers' Paradise Uprooted

[Image: Associated Press photo by David Maung, 2006]

Well, this couldn't be more timely in regards to my last post concerning the rise of illicit economies and the subsequent subterranean urbanism of the future. Mexican investigators discovered an entrance to a tunnel inside a warehouse in San Diego just outside the airport in Tijuana, Mexico. But, when they examined it further, officials realized they had uncovered what turned out to be "one of the longest and most sophisticated cross-border tunnels ever discovered."

[Image: Associated Press photo by David Maung, 2006]

From the AP: "The size and scale of the tunnel — the 21st discovered in more than four years - was at least 60 feet below U.S. soil and 2,400 feet long. (Some reports are estimating 3,789 feet long and 89 feet deep). Authorities found a tunnel floor lined with cement, lights that ran down one of the hard soil walls, and air piped down from the surface. An adult could stand in the 5-foot-high shaft, and a 6-by-10-foot cement shaft equipped with a pulley dropped about 75 feet to the tunnel."

[Image: David Maung/Associated Press, NYT, 2006]

[Image: David Maung/Associated Press, NYT, 2006]

At least 2 tons of pot were found stacked like bagged treasure in the tunnel on the Mexican side, and another 200 pounds lay undisturbed on the American side. Investigators had no clue whether the tunnel had been used for anything other than smuggling drugs. This makes the fourth tunnel discovered this month along the Tijuana-San Diego border, and, yet, you get the sense that investigators have merely only scratched the surface of what's beginning to look like an epic subterranean labyrinth of dank corridors, trapped whispers, and lots of lonely long turns.
Oh, what I wouldn't give for a tour.

Some history (according to the Union-Tribune):
The biggest tunnels that U.S. and Mexican authorities have discovered under the border between California and Baja California:

January 24th/25th, 2006 – A 2,600-foot-long tunnel between an industrial building near Tijuana's airport and a warehouse near Siempre Viva Road in Otay Mesa.

Feb. 25, 2005 – A 600-foot tunnel between a house in Mexicali and a house in Calexico.

Feb. 27, 2002 – A 1,200-foot tunnel between a ranch house on the outskirts of Tecate, Mexico, and an unoccupied house in Tierra del Sol near Boulevard.

May 31, 1993 – An unfinished 1,450-foot tunnel that began in an industrial building near Tijuana's airport. The tunnelers were headed toward a warehouse on Siempre Viva Road in Otay Mesa, but were about 120 feet short when it was discovered.

[Images: Photos above were grabbed from ABC News and the NYT, 2006]

Watch the video on CNN, and from the AP found here. (scroll down).

More Coverage:
Two tons of pot found inside Mexico-U.S. border tunnel (SignOnSanDiego)
Feds smoke out largest drug tunnel yet (CNN)
[Re] improvising sub_Base landscapes (Subtopia)
Subterranean bunker-cities (BLDGBLOG)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

[Re] improvising sub_Base landscapes

[Image: source]

A few months ago, I posted a piece, 'improvising sub_Base landscapes' to Archinect, on secret tunnels cropping up around different border regions around the world, with a particularly fascinating link to a story of a group of Iraqi insurgents, detained at Camp Bucca, who had managed to excavate a 357 foot underground escape tunnel with "flashlights built from radio diodes," and walls "sculpted smooth and strong as concrete" with buckets and milk. It took a couple of hundred inmates to move 100 tons of soil in about eight weeks to create a bunker that would eventually erupt into a full scale urban riot lasting 4 days againt the Americans.

I also made mention of the 110-meter tunnel that was recently discovered snaking between British Columbia and Washington State, the first and rather well-equipped covert passage ever found linking the U.S. and Canada, fabricated inside a Quonset hut in the Aldergrove area of Langley adjacent to the border. The U.S. has since filled its half with concrete, but officials on both sides were baffled by the extent to which the tunnel had managed to succeed in circumnavigating detection.

Well, suffice to say, The Global Underworld (as informed by this great article in Mother Jones) of gunrunners, smugglers, traffickers, jail breakers, refugees and border crossers have certainly not stopped tunneling their way into the unknown passages of our subterranean new millennium. In the interview, Moisés Naím refers to his new book Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy, a groundbreaking piece of research on the rise of illicit economies, and the infrastructure of a globalized "Black Market" piping through continents with anything from "pirated movies to weapons of mass destruction, human organs to endangered species, drugs, slaves, or stolen art." Documenting the incredible systems and organizations which have cemented the structures of a worldwide subversive economy, Naím projects that such an illicit market accounts for about 10% of the total global GDP and is expected to grow considerably as we move through the century.

[Image: Tunnel Found Under U.S.-Mexico Border, CBS 2 Video, 01.20.06]

Anyway, in this context border or escape tunnels are merely the fledgling apendages of a leviathan bunker system much too great to imagine connecting together inside a hollowed earth. But, I suppose a networked sub_Base landscape serving the entire black market one day could only partially breath through perhaps something resembling one of Geoff's wormhole speculations, a knotted geologic void pulsating with illicit activity like some earthen intenstinal giardia, destined to expel its gasses at the surface at some point or another. So far, 2006 has already found a few tunnelers doing their part to explore this vast potential that is further pushed below the surface by rises in tighter border security and heavy militarized landscape urbanism. 2 if not 3 more tunnels near San Diego and Nogales have been found in recent weeks partially widdled along the U.S./Mexico border. These are truly improvised tunnels approximately 3 feet wide that began below someone's driveway and nearly ended up in an undisclosed patch of unrelenting desert dirt.

And the New York Times just came out with a good historical piece on the dozens of smuggler tunnels that have stretched between Gaza and Egypt in the last quarter century, which have opened up a gunrunners' paradise and tunnel excavation building boom, creating an undeniably risky but lucrative business for teams of Palestinian construction workers and refugee entrepreneurs. The article mentions that the tunnels have actually become less used since Israel's pull out of Gaza, since initially there was a massive influx which saturated the underground market, and which would probably pick up again only if violence occurs. To me, it is interesting to guage the increased visibility of these tunnels as Hamas makes its political move from the underground to a greater institutional position on the surface of Palestinian society.

[Image: Illustration of the Rafah Weapon Smuggling Tunnels, KRT/IDF, 2004]

One of the newest tunnels at the Erez crossing was discovered about a month ago, and officials on both sides of the fence have continued searching for another near the Karni crossing, purportedly used for explosives smuggling. The IDF webite has a pretty comprehensive chronology of news stories exposing the tunnels in Gaza.

In case you were itching for another underground jail break dug out with a bunch of bare hands, well, 3 prisoners in a jail in Bihar (India) managed to dig their way out (or, as this article probes, perhaps they had help from contractors who were working on the inside). Apparently, one of the inmates had already escaped this way once in the past, now making a complete mockery of the prison officials there.

So, as global surveillance becomes more pervasive enabled by open markets and advances in satellite technology, and with alarming mass exoduses of immigration pounding the newly fortified borders of the 1st world -- in some sort of epic labor backlash to the hypocrisies of a globalized world economy (where borders are dissolved for the flow of capital) -- will we see a greater underground network of secret tunnels and escape routes develop? Improvised border crossings and insurgency bunkers, an illicit infrastructure of underworld populations burrowing down deep below the radar? Is the urbanism of the next century a subtopian network of illicit colonizers and underground settlements able to slip past the God-eye of rampant global panopticonism, and hijack the world economy?

Monday, January 23, 2006

'Everybody Is Somebody's Terrorist'

[Image: Andy Diaz Hope, 2005]

Andy Diaz Hope's exhibit 'Everybody Is Somebody's Terrorist' is a funky art installation of silly masks, balaclavas, and clothing apparel, photo-essays and gimmicky artifacts, like mock "terrorist training videos," which plays with the paranoid ambiguity of how public perception manifests its own absurd definition of "what is a terrorist," at a time "when surveillance technologies mask the fact that we do not know who we’re looking for."

[Image: Andy Diaz Hope, 2005]

Ultimately a spoof of the clichés that are prescribed through popular media, Diaz Hope forces the viewer to acknowledge their own tendencies to prescribe terrorists for themselves, made in their own self-obsessed images. The show itself aims to be a "future archeological museum documenting various covert terrorist organizations" that spring up in the immediacy of contexts fabricated by a culture of fear, where the term terrorist gets lost to a complete subjectivity of social manipulation and self-referential mania. "Terrorists are the new enemy," Diaz Hope writes. "They could be anybody. Environmentalists may consider big business as globally, economically or environmentally terrorist. The businessman might consider Greenpeace operations as terrorist acts. The aging baby boomers look at a group of teenagers dressed in street fashion and cross the street in fear. Local economies in developing countries embrace busloads of fat American retirees, while the local residents complain as their landscapes and livelihoods are replaced by high rise hotels and private beaches they will never see the inside of." (...) "Once labeled a terrorist, one becomes one-dimensional; personal history, love of family and country, even politics and religion are eclipsed by the public perception of irrational fanaticism. Almost everyone can be considered somebody’s terrorist.”

Go see the show now currently showing here in San Francisco at one of our coolest Board of Supervisors' offices at City Hall.

Good Buildings, Bad Buildings

[Image: The HURT System (Northrop Grumman), Wired Magazine, 2005]

Continuing on Geoff's last post about virtualized reality and future spontaneous model-making of the battlefield, I'm going to try and pick up where that one left off. More so, however, than using aerial photographs embossed with distance measurements to render 3D topographies of landscapes, the potential to combine that data with developments in autonomous target recognition (ATR) will soon make invasions the things of one-man device-in-hand video game-hero approaches to urban warfare. According to this brief in New Scientist, "avoid me" targets can be tagged to buildings using a thin sticky material, which "contains a small battery that powers a photo-diode tuned to sense light at wavelength of 1.55 micrometres, in the mid-infrared." This diode reflects an "avoid me" cue to pilots or unmanned aerial vehicles who scan buildings with lasers before attacking, therefore hoping to greatly reduce the potential for mistargets and casualties of friendly fire. The use of lasers is much more preferred over older systems of ATR which have relied upon radio and have become increasingly susceptible to improvised jamming capabilities. Such lasers are now even being used to identify breaches in natural gas leaks of pipelines as well, which harnesses a similar laser and crystal prism reflection technology.

[Image: 'The Future of Autonomous Target Recognition', Technology Today, 2005]

But even beyond that, a recent story in Wired talks about a soldier's potential to take full advantage of this new medium for a kind of "surveillance/command game space" and ATR technology in ways that sound like a single soldier in the field would be able to personally take on the Taliban, or an al Q bunker, or something. All he would need is some sort of palm pilot and a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) hovering at his disposal. Once the soldier has gotten the up-to-minute 3D map of a concerned area (as discussed earlier), the soldier would be able to activate building sensors that have previously been mounted in the area to see through the buildings and identify the people hiding inside, before rendering their avatars in 3D displayed over the soldier's wrist band. Then, dispatching a swarm of robots from this same wrist band, they are deployed by the UAV waiting at his command. The surveillance swarm emerges from a non-lethal missile which penetrates through a window and then gives a more specific identification of the suspects inside the building, taking all sorts of video feeds with these tiny deposited cameras. Now, we have a complete interior 3D map of the building and all of the objects within it as some of the robots continue to seek-and-swarm every room for greater model making accuracy. While Raytheon is allegedly working on this type of ATR using display visors and SOCOM-like augmented game interface, Northrop Grumman has come up with the HURT system (Heterogeneous Urban RSTA), which allows UAV's to shadow objects moving or otherwise as assigned to them, which "can also store captured images -- sort of like a battlefield TiVo -- for playback on demand by any user." All of this seemingly controlled by a simple handheld device, battle visor, or guerrilla wrist watch.

I don't know if this means one day active duty forces will be fighting wars from their armchairs at home, with their warfare-gamepads in one hand and their newborns in the other, or if a whole new breed of soldiers will be standing in noisy arcades downtown to fight future wars abroad. But frightening as the fantastic game-ification prospects of warfare may be, I'd have to say, the Sony PSP ain't got nothin' on these gamepads, yet. But who knows, maybe it will be Sony and EA leading the next generation of defense contractors, as tomorrow's battlefield morphs into a chessboard-matrix of networked tribes vying for virtualized spaces and control.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

GoogleMapping War

"Imagine if the first soldiers to enter an enemy city could map it street by street, recording every window and doorway of the urban battlefield in an accurate 3D model that could instantly be relayed to their comrades at base."
What you've just imagined is called virtualized reality, and it's nothing less than "the speedy way to capture a city," says New Scientist.

"Virtualised reality scans the urban landscape using lasers and digital cameras mounted on a truck or plane. A laser measures distances to objects such as lamp posts and building facades, while the digital camera takes 2D photos. Another laser calculates the movement of the truck and checks its position against data collected from the aerial laser aboard the plane. These measurements and pictures are fed into a computer that combines them to create a photo-realistic virtual 3D model of the area."
You can then invade.
Or are you feeling less aggressive? Well, the same technologies can also help you "navigate through strange cities" – whatever those may be. San Francisco? Pyongyang? "Urban planners," meanwhile, "could even look at a series of models collected over time to see how the layout of their city has evolved."
They could then invade.

Friday, January 20, 2006

We Build – We Fight

Defense Tech has a brief piece up today about the Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, who "can do just about any civil engineering or construction job you can imagine. Here [in Iraq], they put up buildings, repair old decaying Iraqi wiring and plumbing, and patch up the battered runway where Air Force C-130s, Marine Corps helos and Army Sherpa airlifters deliver a constant stream of men and material."
However, "their most rewarding missions are always the ones that get them into the local community, building schools and repairing infrastructure... That's what 133, which is based in Mississippi, was doing stateside in the wake of Hurricane Katrina" – interestingly equating Katrina with an urban warzone.
In any case, the Seabees are a Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB), part of the U.S. Naval Construction Force - which also includes Underwater Construction Teams, perking up the imaginative ears of my inner James Bond villain.

Meanwhile, the Naval Construction Force's slogan is nothing less than Construimus, Batuimus – or "we build – we fight," militarizing the architectural design process in a way that would be more interesting if it were a metaphor. (It isn't).
So what to make of such military construction units?
If cities have been militarized from the very beginning – defensive fortifications against other humans, animals, or even bad weather – then we should not find any of this surprising. But if the urbanism of the future continues toward that of refugee camps, temporary disaster-relief villages, border towns, squatter cities, etc. – then is the militarized instant city of the future (Quonset meets Anteon meets Archigram) an overlooked design resource for the architectural profession?
Would architectural design classes benefit from studying such military-urban formations?
Conversely, would the Seabees benefit from studying Peter Zumthor?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Earth bubbles, (or, works in inflated bomb-proof bubble wrap)

"It looks like Bubble Wrap, but BlastWrap isn't for cushioning eBay shipments," writes Popular Science. "A BlastWrap-lined garbage can will dissipate a backpack-size-bomb blast in less than one thousandth of a second. The wrap's 2.75-inch compartments are stuffed with heat-treated perlite (the foamy pellets found in potting soil), a volcanic glass. The beads have a strong internal structure of sealed, air-filled cells. When a blast occurs, the cells are crushed one by one, minimizing damage to the surrounding area, while fire extinguishants snuff the fireball. Trash cans in Washington, D.C.'s Metro stations are now equipped with BlastWrap."

[Image: Popular Science, 2005]

It's also made using a cheap boric acid which contains water, but loses it when heated, creating a reaction that absorbs energy very quickly. Sounds revolutionary, with obvious application. Tests have already implied a worthwhile benefit to armoring humvees and soldiers, though this article in MSNBC reports that "it's not as if vehicles and buildings can be completely clad in BlastWrap to protect them from explosives. The material needs to be close to the detonation to absorb its force. It also doesn't protect against shrapnel or the narrowly focused blasts produced by rocket-propelled anti-tank grenades, or RPGs."

Too bad, because it would be amazing if some crazy avant-garde pyrotechnics artist could get their hands on reams and reams of this stuff to use as some sort of blast sail. The material would need to be pliable and durable enough so that an orchestra of meticulously triggered atomic blasts could be used to shape it, to make large scale detonation sculptures out of it, earth bubbles expanding into inflatable shelters erected with WMD's. Blast scapes become giant billows for a bizaare nuclear glass blowing project, though we'd use hundreds of thousands of yards of BlastWrap instead of cauldrons of liquid glass. Ever since I saw these pictures on grevestmor, I have wondered how one could capture those shapes, semi-parmanently, through some sort of flexible blast-resistant costume, or explosive fashion gear.

[Image: Harold Edgerton, via: gravestmor - 'Atomic Rapatronic']

It could be the greatest Burning Man or SimNuke project yet. A bunch of burners pile around a crater rigged with a series of timely explosives underneath five football field-sized sheets of BlastWrap, the edges pinned down to the lips of the crater, so everyone can bare witneses to a musical series of bangs that burst up massive bubble-gum landscapes from out of the ground. Explosions exhale into this earth condom, sexy sexy blast curves begin to take shape in the panting movements of elasticity, bombs respirating, stretching, morphing into an eliptical feminine bulge. In loud sonic booms atomic bodies are formed. Nuclear clouds hover in spontaneously-combusted bubble-wrap garments, rapatronic jellyfish float weightlessly in fresh hot exploded air, ghosts of the Sedan Crater emerge like deformed hot-air balloons over the dead horizon, or perhaps they resemble god-sized alien lungs breathing in the pneumatic belches of war. Eventually, the floating armored bubble would tear facing too many blasts, and strips of flesh would begin to hang from it. These desperate gnarled tentacles would slowly pull it back down to the ground, deflated, punctured, dragging itself in place, until laid to rest in the bottom of a bombed-out grave from where it once ballooned for no real reason. It's Edward Teller meets Harold Edgerton meets Cai Guo-Qiang meets Lee Bul: the world's first Atomic Spectacle Artist. We could even have a contest to see who could blow-up the biggest earth bubble before they pop.

{Image: Lee Bul, November 2004]

(Blastgard found via we-make-money-not-art.)

Related items:
Blast Scapes :: Digging with Bombs
Atomic Rapatronic (gravestmor)

Living in Olivion

A couple of weeks ago, reports broke out that dozens of Palestinian olive trees in various West Bank villages were being sabotaged in the night, stripped of their branches with hatchets, hacked down to mere useless throbs of wood stumping in the ground. Immediately, farmers accused extremist Jewish settlers from outposts on the hills overlooking their farms of mutilating their orchards, and trying to deprive them of their livelihoods, claiming their olive groves have been the battlefield for a landscape warfare and ongoing clashes with gangs of violent settlers for years. Never mind, that the construction of the Security Wall uprooted thousands and thousands of Arab olive trees, not to mention the miles and miles of Palestinian farmland that has been expropriated. These farms are some of the only means the refugees have towards maintaining any kind of independent economy, now, walled off and doubly crippled by repeated vandalism. The Olive branch, long time symbol of peace, has become a crude symbol for exclusionary power, Israeli land grab, rabid eco-terrorism, and a tactical campaign of urbicide against Palestinian sovereignty. Hasan el-Batal is reminded of an Israeli saying that an uprooted Palestinian olive tree is also a menorah turned upside down, making for an insidious provocation.

"According to the police, 733 Palestinian olive trees were vandalized in 2005." However, according to a list compiled by B'Tselem, Yesh Din and Rabbis for Human Rights, they say at least 2,750 olive trees were vandalized in various ways last year through out the West Bank, either from being uprooted and stolen, torched, or just maliciously chopped down.

Rabbi Zalman Melamed has responded by saying that the cutting of olive trees is prohibited by Jewish law, "unless the trees serve as hiding places for terrorists, and in that case they should be cut down for security reasons." Wow, by that logic, I ask, is anything exempt from aiding "the Palestinian terrorists"? Amidst investigations, the dissident settlers accused the Palestinians of doing it themselves in a shameful slander of the settlers. Pictures were released claiming to show Arab youths terrorizing their own olive tress, but later only seemed to prove that the Arab farmers may have just pruned them poorly. Some refugees admitted occasionally needing to cut down their trees in the middle of the night to use for firewood in order to keep their families warm, but everyone knows, the vandalism of Arab olive trees is nothing new in the West Bank.

"The same people who cut down trees belonging to Palestinians are a dissident group, well-organized, and bordering on terror. It is a group of very very dangerous people and there is nothing I want more than apprehending them,” a senior IDF officer stated. The Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has also been very adamant about punishing the violent settlers. While it appears that these same radicals who are connected to the defiant Jews squatting in Hebron (which may soon be evacuated) are responsible for the vandalism, no arrests have been made or evacuations been ordered. So, as these settlers appeal their claim to Jewish land in Hebron to the courts, let's not forget the several instances of settlers in Gaza brutally attacking the farmlands there before being forced to leave: [a;b;c;d]. Meanwhile, more worries of the wall cutting off major water supplies to villages are expressed almost daily, and as time goes, the refugees stare the writing on the wall: "Despite Olmert’s promises to prevent lawless behavior in the territories, and proof from this summer’s disengagement that with overwhelming police and army forces, settlements can be evacuated in hours without any disruption to life in Israel, there is skepticism about the police and army’s ability to ‘change the diskette’ when it comes to the settler outlaws. Years of government accommodation of all the settlers desired, even when they were blatantly breaking the law whether physically attacking Palestinians or building illegally, has ingrained into the police, army and to a large extent the judiciary, an unwillingness to take the political risk of cracking down on the settlers."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Withus Oragainstus

"Ever wonder how David slew Goliath? Like the insect, he wasn't afraid to die."

Banksy's gorgeous specimen discovered in the NY Museum of Natural History in March of last year, is a stealthy prototype for an entomomechanophilic army. Today, we'll let the caustic insight of Dr. Hellstrom carry us away:

"Psychiatrists [say], that, from childhood nightmares to adult schizophrenia, the insect is a common fixation on the human mind - partly because his face seems so evil, partly because he is so indestructible. Compared with Man, we have to admit that the insect does not display what we can describe as intelligence. But don't feel too proud about that, because where there is no intelligence, there is also no stupidity. Without the burden of intellect, emotion or individual identity, these creatures were given something we weren't: the knowledge that they must work together to create the elusive utopia - the perfect society. Man will point to nature, claiming War was meant to be. But here they died with reason - through selflessness, not greed. In fighting the insect we have killed ourselves, polluted our water, poisoned our wildlife, permeated our own flesh with deadly toxins. The insect becomes immune, and we are poisoned. In fighting with superior intellect, we have outsmarted ourselves. Of the billions of living things on Earth, only Man ponders his existence. His questions lead to torment, for he is unable to accept, as the insects do, that life's only purpose is life itself."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"Architect of Ruins"

[Image: Refugee camp, southern Gaza strip/Guardian's Special Report on Mideast.]

On settlements, the security wall, and Sharon's run at the Pritzker...

"If you consider that in contemporary architectural discourse flexibility and the provisional have almost become fetishes, it is surprising that Sharon has not been offered the Pritzker Prize." (...) "The buildings of today are the trash of tomorrow, and so Ariel Sharon will be remembered in more than one respect as an architect of ruins." - Eyal Weizman (A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture)

[Image: Construction on the Modi'in Ilit settlement in 2001. Photo credit: Efrat Shvili/B'Tselem]

On prefab litter and the leftover metaphors of a failed master plan...

"The broad streets and prefab houses in Gaza now look like the remains of a distant past. The settlements are already history, deformed skeletons of concrete and gravel, although they were only abandoned a few months ago. But as such, they have become a metaphor for something else: for the master plan itself. And perhaps no one better described such an end to the master plan than Bertolt Brecht, who once said that the best plans were always ruined by the faint-heartedness of those who carry them out, while the rulers are powerless to do anything about it." - Hassan Khader (editor of the Palestinian literary review Al Karmel)

Reported on: sight and sound (In Today's Feuilletons, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 10.01.2006) [via: ArchNewsNow]