Sunday, February 26, 2006

Border CTRL

Wonder how the the so-called military-industrial-complex envisions the future of patrolling illegal immigration? "Picture an intruder stepping stealthily across an international borderline. Now shift to a U.S. Command and Control center several miles away where a computer system is alerting a security officer to the intruder's movement, having detected the slight sound of a footstep and zeroed in on the intruder's exact location. The security officer dispatches a UAV to monitor from the air, ground forces to intercept on the ground, and the intruder is stopped."
Global Border Patrol, easy as apple pie. Well, not exactly.

Despite overwhelming protests from all sorts of critics, border communities, immigration policy advocates, foreign governments, humanitarian and environmental groups, and roughly half the American population, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly pushed forward a proposal recently to build a 700 mile border fence between the U.S. and Mexico.

Designed to prevent an incursion of terrorists in the form of illegal border-crossers, the U.S., as we read, would build "a double set of steel walls with floodlights, surveillance cameras and motion detectors (that) run along five segments of the 1,952-mile border" stretching across California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Not entirely dissimilar from the Israeli Security Wall carving up the West Bank, the construction would go right through precious estuaries and wetlands, would cut off small farms and local businesses from the cross-border commerce they have depended on for years, and would likely prove a multi-billion dollar boondoggle for the Dept. of Homeland of Security.

[Image: Some facts about the construction, according to Tyche Hendricks in the San Francisco Chronicle, 2006]

While Northrop Grumman Corp. competes for a $2.5-billion contract to build a high-tech border surveillance infrastructure, GCS Research is busy developing the commercial applications of a recently declassified military program, the Blue Rose: a "next-generation covert intelligence and surveillance sensor system" which can be used "to detect, track, classify, notify, and communicate information about moving objects in remote locations." It's an acoustic-based awareness technology designed by the Navy (NUWC), and for one the U.S. government just happens to think the borderlands would make the perfect testing grounds. For an intense historical account of the gradual militarization of the U.S./Mexico border, check out this article. And then, don't forget to throw Sandia's Generic Model for Cooperative Border Security into the mix, or this plan to expand domestic wiretapping in Texas.

Without rambling forever on this topic, there's far more at stake here than just issues of security. I wonder, how is turning over responsibility and control of our border management, our immigration policy, and ultimately, the debate over our own domestic labor practice, to the military going to solve anything? How does converting the border into a fortress sublime, or some kind of experiment in landscape militarism and surveillance gentrification, going to help create jobs in either the U.S. or Mexico? Isn't the mass exodus of illegal border-crossers into the U.S. more a reflection of an ultimately imbalanced international economy than an issue of border control?

Here's a little Q&A with Homeland Security Over U.S.-Mexico Border Woes (New York Times)

[Photographs were taken by Alex Webb, Crossings: Photographs from the U.S.-Mexican border.]

Saturday, February 25, 2006

My mushrooms eat bombs for breakfast

Scientist Robert Triggs wants to pack commercial explosives with fungus to combat the looming dangers of undetonated (or lost) charges that frequently accumulate in the soil from mining and demolitions operations. By mixing in a dormant spore of the strain Phlebia radiata with the ingredients of explosive charges during their production, Triggs claims this intrepid microbial mushroom will quickly gobble up and dissolve the sensitive materials leftover by faulty or unexploded mines.

Basically, he's patented some little mushies that like to eat bombs for breakfast. I call it a kind of fungoidal bomb-hacking, or harvesting an atomic landscape metabolism with a secret empire of nuke-hungry shrooms. A different type of seeding for the apocalypse.
Anyway, perhaps this defusing technique should apply to bombing ranges and test sites, too, or other spoilt landscapes where regular blasts pummel the earth, or hold vast swaths of it hostage.
I mean, until we figure out a wholly new approach to managing weapons and their waste, in the mean time we could be, instead, producing this stuff more responsibly. Like self-destructing landmines, self-cannibalizing bombshells, or auto-bioremediating warheads. Green grenades. It may sound ridiculous, but at the very least, environmental-friendly ordnance that cleans up after itself.

See these articles:
Explosive-eating fungus (New Scientist)
Bioremediation of soils contaminated with explosives (pdf) (Journal of Environmental Management)

Friday, February 24, 2006

AirWater machines for guerrilla infrastructure

The stats are pretty frightening. Approximately 1 in 5 people on the planet lack regular access to safe drinking water. With a $15 billion bottled water market and a $100 billion water treatment industry, it's hard to believe that our global infrastructure for clean water has still managed to deprive so many.
But, that could suddenly change very quickly.
It's the kind of invention that sounds so simple it's too good to be true, but advance in technology to extract water from air, as we read "could well become one of the most significant enabling technologies in the history of mankind as it will enable man to begin to reconsider the cultivation of vast tracts of previously inhospitable land."
Quite simply, the innovation of AirWater Corps' machines function much like dehumidifiers, in that they condense the air's humidity and produce water much the way the cycles of condensation and evaporation do in rain and snow. The machine traps that condensed humidity and filters the resulting water to make it drinkable. Yup, it's pretty much that simple. But you can read more about the tricks in the process here.

The company's newest deployable machine has the capability of producing up to 1,000 liters of purified and filtered water daily, that can be stored in on-board water tanks, dispensed for drinking or washing via two built-in shower units, and also has a built in ice-making component. A larger 5, 000 liter producing mobile unit, (being developed for the military) will run on solar energy, and will be able to provide water from the sun virtually anywhere, anytime.International Aid organizations like the United Nations and the Red Cross are beginning to use them for humanitarian work, but the implications are really quite endless.

Imagine, vibrant new squatter industries rivaling global bottled water markets with their own local brands. Farms rooting in arid places never deemed agriculturally viable before, harvesting brand new strains of exotic desert foods to solve famine crises across Africa. Refugee camps built out of ice. Nomadic tribes wander around refilling evaporated lake beds. Villages along neglected borders, no longer reliant on dwindling estuaries, intoxicated rivers, or polluted rains for their water resource.
Products like the AirWater machine and the Mobile Power Station could drastically change the patterns of global migration, the self-sustenance of informal settlements, not to mention help relieve the earth of our consumptive stress on the environment in general. I am sure the folks at WorldChanging could sum this up better than I, but these types of open-source pieces of emerging mobile infrastructure could go a long way in rebuking our dependencies on corporate energy, helping communities go off-grid, stabilizing the backlash landscapes to rampant global urbanism which has failed to acknowledge the most basic needs of 20% of the world's population.
Without a doubt, these are the tools of the revolution.

(Images, thanks to Gizmag)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

(W)architecture & Identity

[Image(s): What remains of one of Iraq's holiest Shiite shrines - the Golden Dome of the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra- Wednesday, after insurgents detonated two bombs inside. The attack has set off "an unprecendented spasm of sectarian violence" edging Iraq closer to civil war. Rocked to our foundations, Tom Dyckhoff has a timely review of Robert Bevan's new book (The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War) and "the wanton destruction of culturally important buildings treated as war crime." A tangential yet interesting follow up to that article, is this advice given to Arab architects to 'shun heritage cloning' with their projects, and the trend of copying Western designs which only further abstracts the vulnerable historic narrative of their architectural identity.]

"New City" Najaf

Quietly, slipping through the news recently was the announcement that a London based planning agency (Llewellyn Davies Yeang) just signed a contract to redesign the centre of Najaf, Iraq. Interestingly enough, it is the same firm that was responsible for turning the Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire (UK) into a model "new town" during the 60's when a surge of families fled London in search of an alternative lifestyle. But, the BBC reports that "by the 1980s Milton Keynes had become a byword for both the pros and cons of post-war British urban planning. It was to some a spacious, modern, landscaped town, and to others a dystopic, soulless home to shopping centres and skateboard parks."

Now, the firm is grafting elements of that same masterplan into a redesign of the holy city that today is bankrupt of basic infrastructure and stability. In fact, the UK firm isn't even going to visit the site because Najaf is still so dangerous. Instead, they will work closely with Iraqi partners there over email, using aerial photographs and relayed site data to figure their scheme.

Last year, I found an article describing the demolition campaigns that have plagued Najaf for the last 30 years, as a result of Saddam's neglect, and continuing both during and after his removal. Recently, the U.S. appears to regard demolition as a necessary tool for regenerating the city and developing a new urban core. However, Kamil Mahdi warns, "Rushed "development" of the kind being undertaken is frequently accompanied by scandalous financial corruption. It will benefit big contractors and absentee landowners, and the losers are usually the people who live in the city and those who value it, that is all Iraqis."

So, (without prematurely knocking this plan, which President Bush believes is a potential model for the redevelopment of the country), why is there so little discussion of Iraqi planners potentially leading a project like this? What would the benefits of that strategy be? Who are the contractors and businesses that stand to gain the most here? Should this "new city" model even be applied? And, doesn't the fact that an ancient Muslim city being redesigned by a British firm -- purely over satellite, nonetheless -- well, just seem...slightly alienating and inappropriate, I mean, given the circumstances right now? At the very least, shouldn't they get the water running first, maybe some more electricity, perhaps even work out the security kinks before cloning a grand commercial masterplan for a holy land over the Internet?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


[Images: Borderville by Invertebrate; scanned from Issue #18 of Cabinet Magazine. These were "assembled out of objects ripped from (...) movies featuring border crossings," including Salvador, The Great Escape, Three Kings, Traffic, The Day of the Jackal, Not Without My Daughter, Bad Boys II, The Wild Bunch, From Dusk Till Dawn – etc. In other words, these are absolute borderlands, in-between spaces, a "backlash landscape" of political division. (Invertebrate: be in touch!)].

(Simultaneously posted on BLDGBLOG).

Monday, February 20, 2006

Suiting Wasps for War

[Image: San Francisco street art, 2006, photo by Bryan Finoki]

Adding further to The Entomomechanophilic Army, here's a hotrod war bug for you, who has, by nature, been uniquely bred for the art of psycho warfare.

Hiding in the ruins, he enters a set of coordinates into a handheld gamepad-like device. As simple as dipping his fingers into a touchscreen pond and lightly splashing them, an elite swarm of miltarized wasps is ordered into action from a reclusive hive a few miles away. In the remains of a bombed out garrison packed with rubble, debris, and a stash of electronics, the swarm has adapted brilliant hotels from old TV's and computers, unsuspecting air bases made out of speakers and microwaves. It's microcosmic urbanism. Everything looks miserably miniaturized and antiquated half sunken in volumes of obliterated concrete. But up close, this heaping landscape, studded with shards of black glass, has become a sort of electromagnetic Eden for a newly deployed species of non-lethal Subtopian war bug.

When the swarm's icon appears, he rubs the small screen with further instructions and, just like that -- target reticles updated -- they flick themselves off the junk piles of their EM addiction and dart through polluted necropolitan skies to infest a small network of fortified enemy bunkers just out of infantry reach.

On his portable, he watches the swarm's flight en route from tiny cameras that have been fixed to the undersides of their sleek abdomens. This collective imagery becomes a kind of nanoscopic film (a computed nanovideography), streaming narratives of a virtualized space, layered with spontaneous cartographies, annihilated topographies, toxicity levels, aerial depictions of enclaves and densities, strategic positioning, and a bunch of gamey icons that fill up the touchscreen pond as it relays all of this information from the palm of his hand. But this mechanized wasp is more than just a surveillance agent.

Meet the Ampulex Compressa: a stunning parasitoid that injects a serum into the brains of cockroaches, hijacking their zombified bodies in order to incubate her eggs inside them. Carl Zimmer describes the process in full here and here, but her body snatching technique could be, (at least metaphorically), the insect prophecy of further progress in galvanic vestibular stimulation (pdf), or, an applied Parasitic Humanoid apparatus. Basically, manipulating humans with remote control.

"The brain has always been a battlefield. New weapons might be able to hack directly into your nervous system," says David Hambling, who writes extensively about modern warfare and emergent technology. In this case, electromagnetic weapons that could theoretically control enemy minds, by altering their sensations and projecting "controlled effects" through lasers and high-power microwaves. We're talking skin and headspace as targets, here, people. To quote from Defense Tech, it's the process of "activating the nerve cells responsible for sensing unpleasant stimuli: heat, damage, pressure, cold. (...) By selectively stimulating a particular nociceptor, a finely tuned PEP (Pulsed Energy Projectile) might create sensations of say, being burned, frozen or dipped in acid -- all without doing the slightest actual harm." Sounds like high-tech voodoo torture, to me.

Hambling also suggests that synthetic images, or sounds, may be created to confuse someone's senses. Does the ampulex compressa make her cockroach taste bile or smell death first, before chariot-ing it back into her nesting chamber?

He scrolls through an inventory on his gamepad -- nanoscale lasers, PEP's, high-power microwave guns, subaudible acoustic weaponry, and so on -- and, eventually sets the wasps to stun and retrieve. Her instincts to co-opt zombie hosts have been fully idealized in her militant role, here, whose aim, now, is to deliver a similar kind of psychological warfare injection into humans but without the need for having any kind of contact at all. Yes, it is the apotheosis of the Ampulex Compressa, and, certainly, another freaky chapter in the Subtopian future of insecticized warfare.

The Entomomechanophilic Army : Withus Oragainstus : Atomic Monarch (Danaus Plexippus: Plutonium Lepidoptera)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Dig Dug & the Deep Digger

Leave it to Defense Tech to dig up this scoop on the Deep Digger, the latest round of bunker busters which parachutes down and drills and scrapes it's way through the earth, apparently, much further than current warheads can go that rely on kinetic energy to penetrate at impact. That's because this missile head's got its own teeth made to gnaw out tunnels so bombs can burrow in deep enough to bust even the most buried villainous hideouts.

But, maybe, one day they'll get smart, and once deployed be able to seek out unknown subterranean lairs on their own. An earth full of geologic termites chasing acoustic sonar, or something. Viral mining machines and remote controlled missile worms. Scarier, perhaps, is the image of an Army general and his grandson kicking back thumbing this new Sony gamepad, enjoying a classic game of Dig Dug together, like all good gamers do. Just the two of them, sharing a rather eerie Nintendo, Hallmark, Go Army moment, as they watch their little arcade hero go mucking a frenzy, drilling and exploding, whittling tectonic cavities at the slightest twitch of a finger.

If video games one day became the interface for conducting actual war, then a new generation of Dig Dug-obsessed gamers would go ballistic tunneling underground wormhole-matrixes with the Deep Digger. Dig Dug tunnel patterns as 'gamer signatures' of real-time strategy bunker articulation. So that, while enemy bunker spaces are exposed and dismantled, an entirely new underground complex is rendered in it's place in the process. All through out the course of a little handheld game. It's an offshoot military application of Geoff's void grinder, but less Gothic and more Giger. Dig Dug and the art of illicit infrastructure-blasting. Or, it's an Army Corps of Engineers version of Chutes and Ladders. Whatever, the Deep Digger's gonna be the stealthy pimp daddy of future nuke engineers.

Check out the two-part series by Weapons Grade author David Hambling: New Bomb Drills for Bunkers (part 1), and Breaking Rocks - Lots of Rocks (part 2), which speculates on other potential uses and applications, such as: precise building incision, surgical demolition, debris removal for rescue efforts...oh and vault cracking, too. Fascinatnig stuff, as always.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Globalization of Forced Migration, and the nomadic fortress

[Image: 32 Beijing/New York, Issue 7: Floating Populations, Edited by Steven Holl]

I haven't gotten my hands on this yet, but Issue 7 of 32: Beijing/New York is devoted to Floating Populations and the spaces cropping up as the result of global urban migration. I'm very curious to see what types of connections are made between African nomadic settlements and, say, American commuter transit villages, and other migration spaces reflected between the first and third worlds.
What I am most interested in, though, are those places which evidence an urbanism of forced migration: I'm talking refugee camps, prisons, homeless shelters, immigration stalls, detention facilities, national emergency centers, squatter cities, tent cities, border fences, subterranean worlds, slave trade enclaves, mobile homes, convalescent homes, security checkpoints, the baseworld archipelago, and so on, etc.. Altogether, they constitute this massive informal infrastructure of nomadic space expanding around the world, fragmented in different forms of socio-political captivity.

[Image: Dakhla camp for Sahrawi refugees in the Tindouf region of Algeria in 1998, UNHCR/A. Hollmann]

It is the architectural space of urban dislocation. Expelled space. A scattered no man's land buffering the first world from the rest of the world. Swollen fractions, a violent terrestrial palette, criss-crossing boundaries, impregnated landscapes and disease. It is a haunted edge space that laps at the periphery of earth's gated Eden.

[Of course, I really don't know what I am talking about, or exactly what it is even I am trying to say, but...]

These contexts of posturban mobility, sort of, stratify a geospatial complicity for a whole spectrum of forced migrations and evictions. In the examples given above, familiar notions of eviction and immigration are challenged and redefined. Homeless people can no longer be seen as waifs who simply refuse to work. Day laborers are no longer just some group of hard workers from across the border eager to make an extra buck. The riots that recently rocked Paris can't be reduced to mere temper flare, or senseless acts of violence. And the African immigrants dragging their feeble bodies over barbed wire fences in Spain aren't risking their lives just because the grass is greener on the other side. Disintegrated economic development, exclusionary housing policy, inacessible real estate markets, insufficient job creation, and a pervasive lack of economic development collaboration between the two worlds is now regarded as much a force of eviction as the worst environmental disasters, or brutal tribal wars.

[Image: WORLDPROCESSOR, Ingo Gunther]

In terms of a global immigration movement, I'm trying to understand how ambiguity in architecture plays out in these contexts, as both a strategy for maintaining strict economic control over certain demographics, while, also, offering a much needed place for protecting communities that have been uprooted by civil war, scattered by genocide, banished from their homeland, etc.. Such are the semantics of the 'refugee camp', f.e., which usually turns out to be as much a permanent prison in humanitarian disguise as a temporary transitional facility, (the detention center as stepping stone to asylum? I don't think so.). In all the ingenuity that goes into accomodating a culture of forced migration these constructs only reinforce it, and ultimately refugee camps just end up incapacitating communities more than helping them to rebuild. I guess I can't ignore the implications of such places essentially herding people around the globe like cattle.
The antithesis of global urbanism, "refugee urbanism" is a dispersed carceral landscape defined by an urbanism deprivation, a nomadic vertigo, and the uncertainty of judicial status in constant flux.
Until the richer nations truly invest in solving the root causes of the common refugee camp (because they're not going anywhere soon), or continues to find new ways of helping refugee communities turn them into catalysts for broader social change and infrastructural improvement, what will keep the regimes of indiscriminate eviction at bay?

[Image: WORLDPROCESSOR, Ingo Gunther]

These semi-porous detention centers are partly the mechanisms that manage the global flows of exploited labor, they are the product of the 'global factory boss' in cahoots with the 'global slumlord', coming together to flex their power along the fringes of a decentralized and disaster-plagued third world landscape, hovering in nomadic perpetuity.
For millions of people, it's a life of torture and neglect, starved wandering, the zombification of urban migration.
I can't help viewing all these places as some sort of autonomous transnational platform of networked walls and flexible urbanisms, secretly working together in frightening choreography of architecural unison. (almost like an animated gif of moving building parts: folding gates, collapsible walls, roving compounds, mobile bunkers, inflatable watchtowers, coils of barbed wire unraveling themselves, urban street armor ratcheting into place, solar fences sparking with electricity, the whole freakish thing flickering somewhere in between a power-drunken march, a mechanical ballet, or a stilted slow motion slither.). It is the empire's modular self-expanding fortress -- the nomadic fortress -- designed to round up and quarantine global poverty. An act of simultaneous landscape fortressization zipping up the modern world, making it impermeable to everywhere else. Altogether, this refugee urbanism is an epic architectural conceit that translates distant lines in the sand into a subtle systematic ghettoization of the world's floating populations.

[Image: Exodus by Sebastiao Salgado]

While China's migrant patterns over decades of hyperurbanization has led to the floating populations of instant labor armies and millions of people evicted from rural areas, the term "floating populations" can now be expanded to include an entire strata of globally dispossessed people, taxonomies of exodus movements, new classes of global non-citizens suspended in political limbomania, culturally uprooted, dying for juridical recognition. These floating populations are the strewn objects of dislocated space, pawns in a much larger geopolitical strategy of forced migration and tactical real estate wars. Soon, we may all be the subjects of one type of eminent domain or another.

(See Part II: The Saudi's Immigrant-hunting Border Fence, and Border Fences-R-Us.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

FEMA, Wasted

[Image: That Trailer Park, Arkansas Times Daily Blog, 2006]

It' crazy to hear about the more than 20, 000 or so empty 80-foot trailers that are camped out in fields and parking lots through out the gulf region, or the 11, 000 alone sitting vacant on that airstrip in Hope, Arkansas, where FEMA is paying $25,000 a month storage fee. Apparently, FEMA claims the trailers are restricted from flood plains, because the only way to park them there is to raise them off the ground and anchor them. But, that would then technically make them "permanent housing", and, (as FEMA has been more than quick to point out), Louisiana officials have made this type of housing against the law. So, they'd rather thousands of people go on living in tents there instead.
Talk about absurdity. Talk about playing bureaucratic hot potato, juggling people's lives in certain limbo. It's ike MoJo points out, that may just be all a part of the plan. Starving victims into further migration.

[Image: Storm Victims Face Big Delay to Get Trailers, New York Times, 2006]

So, instead of doing anything with all of these unused trailers, FEMA has decided to eat the costs until they figure out another plan for them. This brilliant decision has been perfectly timed with the announcements that 12, 000 people have just recently hit the streets again after being evicted from government sponsored hotels.
And, the newest audits show FEMA has squandered away millions of aid dollars in over-charges, poor accounting, and all sort of abuses.
Meanwhile, on the flip side, residents who have since moved out of their need for the trailers can't seem to get FEMA to come pick them up. So, that they may, presumably, (and you'll have to forgive me here) be used for other victims who still need them.

Let's get this straight one more time. FEMA is the real disaster here. And their response couldn't be more disgraceful watching millions of Pakistani earthquake victims freezing to death under cardboard shelters on snowy mountain tops. Or, rotting away in post-tsunami emergency camps. De-housed in the West Bank. It doesn't get much more telling than that: here is the epitome of the wasteful American landscape, thousands of homeless people suffering right next to massive stock piles of locked up disposable emergency shelters. So disposable, in fact, that they don't even ever actually get used.

Instant Democracy: The Pneumatic Parliament

Not sure exactly how I feel about this yet, but, nonetheless, it is more than a perfect example of the Archigramic-Rumsfeldian-Buckminster mashup of deployable military urbanism that sort of typifies architecture in the age of "globalization" right now.

This inflatable parliamentary dome is the product of Peter Sloterdijk and Gesa Mueller von der Hagen, designers for the firm Global Instant Objects, and was originally presented as an installation for the Konferenz für Demokratie un Wertegemeinschaft. It is a brilliant commentary on the idealogical hubris that claims democracy will leave no country behind, and offers a symbolic prototype to mock the contemporary notion of 'democracy as an export product.'

[All images: courtesy of Global Instant Objects, and this piece in the IFFR]

As I cannot speak or read German, I must thank Regine (not only for bringing this to our attention) but for providing this bit of explanation: "The mobile, transparent and self inflating plastic dome can be used all over the world to house parliamentary meetings. It can be transported in a compact container and dropped into regions where a change of political system is deemed "desirable." Within 90 minutes, the structure can house 160 Members of Parliament, offering the architectural conditions necessary for democratic processes, and as such forms a futurist contribution to the worldwide distribution of Western democratic principles."

I cannot help to wonder what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's dreamy response was, or would be, to this instant democratic command center. And, just where exactly these inflatable democracies would manage to pop up, who would be participating in them, and what business would be discussed. Since, however, democracy is not a top down process, I have the sneaky suspicion that the pneumatic parliament would find itself, (on more occasions than one), full of transnational CEO's and paramilitant leaders hunkered around a table full of maps and covert ops strategy docs, before, say, honoring the starving heads of states from fledgling democracies around the world. But, that's just pure speculation... ahem.

(Via: we-make-money-not-art, Neural, and IFFR.)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Peripheral Milit_Urb 1

[Image: Ancient City of Erbil, northern Iraq, Nomadlife]

Dream City: Erbil, Iraq

Dream City residential project, is the latest brainchild of MECRI (Middle East Construction Company). It is located 2 km west of Erbil City center in a relatively peaceful part of Kurdistan which is now northern Iraq.

"On the ground, Dream City looks like nothing more than another walled compound in a country full of ruined army bases. It is only when watching the promotional film that the future of this particular site is revealed as a complex of 1200 luxury homes, a shopping mall, parks and schools: in short, a slice of Western suburbia grafted on to an Iraqi city."

Read more in ITP Business. (via: archinect)

[Image: Heritage Park Master Plan, George Hazelden Properties]

Brutal divide: fortified town plays on middle class fear of crime

"The concept is medieval but the execution is very much 21st-century South Africa: a fortified town run as a miniature state. Rising from the winelands outside Cape Town, Heritage Park is enclosed by a computer-monitored fence that zaps intruders with 35,000 volts and alerts a corps of security guards.

The newly built cluster of 650 houses, two churches, two schools and several factories on the outskirts of Somerset West could claim to be the safest town in crime-plagued South Africa."

Read more in the Guardian. (via: SquatterCity)

[Image: Hatena::Diary]

"Implicating Privatopia"

"According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2003 American Housing Survey, there were 3 million owner-occupied homes in gated communities. Most popular in southern states, such as Florida and Georgia, the gated concept is now beginning to close in on the rest of the country. By some estimates, gated communities comprise 10 percent of the new home market, according to a report by Renaud Le Goix, a Fulbright scholar studying at the University of California, Los Angeles."

Read more in this report from the Urban Land Institute. Also, see: Heavy Trash.

[Image: Iraqis remain starved of electricity, Conservative Voice, 2006]

Baghdad on Four Hours of Electricity a Day

"Thanks largely to deteriorating security, electricity - along with water, sewage, and oil production - has dropped below prewar levels. Before the invasion, for example, Baghdad was receiving an average of at least 16 hours of power a day. Today, with insurgents targeting power plants and electrical lines on an almost daily basis, the city gets power just four hours each day on average."

Read this article in the CS Monitor.
For more: Iraq needs $20 bln to end chronic electricity crisis, Middle East Online.

[Image: Greetings Kill: Primer for a Pandemic, New York Times, 2006]

Greetings Kill: Primer for a Pandemic

"If the avian flu goes pandemic while Tamiflu and vaccines are still in short supply, experts say, the only protection most Americans will have is "social distancing," which is the new politically correct way of saying "quarantine." But distancing also encompasses less drastic measures, like wearing face masks, staying out of elevators — and the bump. Such stratagems, those experts say, will rewrite the ways we interact, at least during the weeks when the waves of influenza are washing over us."

Read it in the New York Times.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

CCTV as Icon

[Image: A little Finokian mash-up, 2006]

Considering for a moment the iconography of culturalism, and how brands of simple imagery might best represent the symbolic portraiture of an individual country, Britain has launched a website where the public at large can both nominate and vote for their favorite icons to depict the pride of the UK's historical persona. Icons - A Portrait of England aims to create "a rich resource of material about our lives and cultural heritage," and to stimulate debate over which icons truly represent British culture. One icon nomination, of which I discovered on Spy Blog, is for the ubiquitous CCTV camera, wittingly proposed by Perry de Havilland, and was recently accepted.
He says, "The CCTV camera is the perfect icon for Britain today, summing up the nature of the changing relationship between civil society and political state. They are an innovation in which Britain leads the world both technologically and in usage and are the visible manifestation of so many things which happen out of sight. It is almost impossible to avoid their gaze for an entire day and sitting like steel crows on their perches above us, truly they are emblematic of modern Britain."

When you consider that Britain is officially the most watched country in the world, monitored by some four million CCTV cameras (one for every 14 citizens), and that the word is, if you live in London you are probably caught on film about 300 times a day, then, it would seem this contest is really a no-contest. Go here and vote for the CCTV cam as UK's most appropriate cultural icon.

Architects of Nebulous Detention

[Image: The New Frontier, a special report by TIME Magazine, 2001]

It was announced last week, that Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton (long time purveyors of a certain brand of 'military urbanism', and, of course, the makers of Guantanamo Bay Detention Center), have secured a $385 million dollar contract by the Department of Homeland Security to allegedly construct detention and processing facilities here in the U.S. in the event of a national emergency. The driving strategy behind the agreement implies that such centers would mainly be used to detain illegal immigrants and border-crossers from Mexico, as a needed supplement to the perpetual burden of current lacking holding facilities, and for which the number of border-crossers arriving in this country could continue to rise at alarming rates. The New York Times pointed out in this article, that the centers would only be built in the case of an emergency, such as the time when thousands of Cubans braved the oceans on makeshift rafts to reach the shores of Florida. The article mentions that such centers might never actually get built unless new similar emergencies arise.

[Image: New York's Pier 57 Detention Center, Halliburton Detention Camps For Political Subversives, Paul Joseph Watson/Prison | February 1 2006]

My first question is, how would waiting for an emergency to occur before building accommodations serve as planning for 'better preparedness'? And, given that thousands of Katrina victims still remain un-housed around the country today, some of which were even recently evicted from their FEMA-sponsored hotels, then why is this money not going towards immediate assistance, like replacement housing, or even more affordable housing stock in general?

[Image: Baxter Immigration Detention Facility, Photo: Bryan Charlton in The Australian Financial Review]

Of course, the most frightening thing about this news, (aside from the obvious), is that the contract seems to keep a certain ambiguity around how these facilities would play into larger plans for responding to any type of unforeseeable national emergency, should one emerge. The resulting urbanism could resemble something of a cross between an immigration shelter facility, temporary housing structures for disaster victims, a military prison, an urban refugee camp, or, perhaps even something more secretive as it has not yet been defined. Again, large contracts are granted to Halliburton long before there is even a specific use for the money, which seems to be held in a potentially dubious semantic escrow, until this undisclosed definition of need presents itself. Halliburton is the ideal contractor waiting for attack. Doin' Rummy's flexible urbanism proud.

[Image: Newly arrived illegal immigrants join others in the compound in Arizona run by the U.S. Border Patrol.]

So, what do you get when you combine the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, DHS, and Halliburton? Ambiguous contracts for ambiguous national crisis emergency centers. Throw in the fact that anyone can be deemed an 'enemy combatant' and held indefinitely without trial; that border crossers may soon become felons under the Patriot Act for being in the U.S. illegally; that humanitarian volunteers aiding dying immigrants could also be punishable by law; that free speech protestors crossing security barriers may be automatically jailed under Patriot Act law; that the country's latest approach to the border has been to focus on building a militarized wall and extra detention facilities instead of more sustainable economic development ties with our southern continental neighbors; and, that the homeless in this country are becoming increasingly criminalized and jailed over and over again, whilst 385 million dollars is now held in limbo waiting to fund a new source of militarized urbanism projects which, so far, appears as fuzzy financial blueprints for a nebulous range of internment camps, where any one of the people from the scenarios described above could end up.
Needless to say, it's the kind of contract that doesn't leave the best of feelings in your stomach.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Guns that guard The Guns

[Image: The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Northern California will now be protected by these new Gatling guns, giving firepower equivalent to a dozen guards armed with standard high-powered rifles. Range: 0.93 mile, (1,500 meters), Firing rate: Up to 4,000 rounds per minute, Cost: between $50,000 and $75,000, depending on accessories: SFGate.]

[Image: The University of California has run Los Alamos National Laboratory (shown here) since 1943. Courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory, SFGate.]

Here's a chronological news map of recent activities and operational maneuverings that have been shaking up the Lab in past months:

UC has run the nation's top weapons lab for six decades. Will it all end this week? (November 17, 2005) | Plutonium could be missing from lab 600-plus pounds unaccounted for, activist group says (November 30, 2005) | Nuclear lab gets OK to double plutonium U.S. Energy Dept. approves storage of 300 bombs' worth (December 1, 2005) | UC keeps control of Los Alamos (December 21, 2005) | Bechtel partnership will put lab on a more businesslike footing (December 22, 2005) | 5 workers exposed to deadly plutonium in accident this week (December 23, 2005) | POTENT FIREPOWER FOR WEAPONS LAB (February 3, 2006) | Lab Gatling guns frighten some; others feel safe Weapons designed to protect facility from terrorists (February 4, 2006)