Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Imaging Mugabe's Squatter Urbicide

[Images: From this Press Release, "Amnesty International today released the first-ever satellite images of the wholesale destruction of a large community in Zimbabwe -- providing the clearest possible evidence to date of the devastating impact of the Zimbabwean government's policy of house demolitions." These images are of Porta Farm where roughly 20,000 peoples' homes were destroyed. President Mugabe's "Operation Drive Out Trash" has said to have directly rendered 700,000 people homeless.
After thousands were taken and released from holding camps, the government promised "every household four asbestos sheets and poles to make a 3x5 meter shed, regardless of family size. They were told that using plastic sheeting or any other material to wall off the structure was not allowed, because that would create a shantytown." (via: BBC)]

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Sim Baghdad

What do you find on a 100,000-acre US Army training facility tucked deep in the backwoods of Louisiana where 44,000 Army and National Guard soldiers visit over the course of a year? Well, how about “18 faux Iraqi towns, complete with mosques, schools, and hundreds of other buildings (detailed right down to kebab stands and street signs in Arabic)”, filled with 1,200 Arab Americans who’ve been bussed in from out of town to act as “Iraqi mayors, imams, journalists, humanitarian aid workers, and ordinary citizens,” in this Army play town referred to in Wired as 'Baghdad, USA'.
Throw in a 500 person support staff, a dozen Apache and Blackhawk combat helicopters, 30 tank-like Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and 1,000 jeeps, Humvees, with commanders on the ground [who] get video feeds from simulated surveillance planes flown over 3-D maps of the battlefield” -- oh, and don’t forget about the squad of in-game journalists who write three newspapers a day, a radio show, and fabricate a bunch of media stunts for added confusion –- so, altogether, you’ve got nothing less than a mock version of war-torn Iraq designed for the purpose of being re-controlled, tamed, civilized American-style where hostile cities become a “Theater of War” on their way to being adopted by First World military order.
It’s a new model war game based on some of the most realistic simulations of urban warfare possibly created anywhere in the world. This article from Vince Beiser takes us on a tour of the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, and a sim battle city made in the image of the 'War on Terror', where gaming meets real life combat and fantasy sieges of seedy Arabic dens are practiced for the Pentagonal art of military occupation.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Washington's New 'Survival City'

In case you hadn't noticed, the Capitol building in Washington is getting a 500 million dollar bunker installed at the foot of it's front entrance. Called The Capitol Visitors Center, it "will include space for exhibits, visitor comfort, food service, two orientation theaters, an auditorium, gift shops, security, a service tunnel for truck loading and deliveries, mechanical facilities, storage, and much-needed space for the House and Senate."

Others are saying that the CVC is just a euphimism for an overpriced congressional fall-out space instead. In the event of an attack on the Capitol building, Congress "may need to be protected [...] as a result of the disastrous foreign policies they have approved," says Sam Smith, editor for the Progressive Review.

Needless to say, details of the plan have become more secretive while costs have increased from 71 million as it was first estimated in 1991, to half a billion.
The leviathan three-level, 580,000-square-foot center is located beneath the East Capitol Grounds, "so as to enhance rather than detract from the appearance of the Capitol and its historic Frederick Law Olmstead landscape."
We read in this article, that the "structure houses hundreds of thousands of feet of fiber-optic cable for telecommunications services and additional equipment to provide wireless access, virtual screenings of House and Senate proceedings and 20 interactive kiosks for visitors to learn about the history of the Capitol and the legislative branch."

According to the architects, RTKL, after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the floor plans were amended and the building was have fitted with state-of-the-art technology "in order to deliver adequate security measures, material protection and multimedia use.” The Capitol Police apparently declined to answer whether it was "secure against bombs, nuclear threats, or biological and chemical incidents," but it does include four bombproof skylights, an undetailed super sophistication of IT infrastructure, and an secret tunnel system built to keep vehicles out of sight.

Visitor Center, Capitol Bunker, whatever you want to call it, looks pretty obvious Washington planners are bracing for a future subterranean vacation, and this one is closer to home than ever. It almost sounds like a private little slice of Vegas tunneled down there on the Capitol doorstep; an instant paradise poured into concrete - underground pavillions, buried media arcades, chambers within chambers, in short, posh new atomic architecture; or Washington's new Survival City.

Vanderbilt reminds me of this Lewis Mumford quote, "The masters of the underground citadel are committed to a 'war' they canot bring to an end, with weapons whose ultimate effects they cannot control, for purposes they cannot accomplish." Read the chapter The Underground City for a tour of the nation's congresional bunker spaces built over the last several decades.

At the end, Vanderbilt writes about the lasting legacies of the Cold War: an Architecture of Conspiracy: "The subterranean state and the black budget created a world without walls and without boundaries -- everything was possible, everything potentially connected -- and, in the absence of visible lines of power, the paranoid draftsman steps in, sketching an Escher-like world of interlocking secret tunnels and furtive conduits of power. In such darkness, the only light to guide the way is fervant, unblinking belief in disbelief. Whenever a space is opened or a document declassified, the inherent Cold War logic states that this must have occurred only because there is some other space, some other document, buried even deeper, belonging to an even more secret agency, that reemains out of view."

[All images can be found on this page of ongoing contruction progress summaries.] : [Story via ArchNewsNow]

[See these earlier posts: Through the Turnstile; Touring the Greenbrier; Secret Cities of the A-Bomb; Area 71; Mount Weather Gets a Little Facelift; A Silo Full of Cash; Secret Soviet Submarine Base; Fortress Baghdad; The 'Long War' enters its capsule; Subterranean Urbanism; Tokyo Secret City; Bunker Archaeology; Smugglers' Paradise Uprooted; [Re] improvising sub_Base landscapes; Secret Synagogue; Mt. Seemore and the watchful gaze; from Leftover-Bunkers to Tourist-Traps...; A "Closed Atomic City": Open for Business]

Peripheral Milit_Urb 6

[SurvivaBall schematic for personal global warming shelter prototype, compliments of the Yes Men.]


SurvivaBall Protects Corporate Execs: "Members of the Yes Men, a group of environmental and corporate ethics activists, gave a presentation at a trade conference pretending to be Halliburton executives touting large inflatable suits that provide corporate managers safety from global warming." (photos)

Japanese eye big bill to relocate US forces: "Plans to realign American forces in Japan by 2014 represent the most significant shift of US military forces in Asia since the Vietnam War. They come at a time when Asia's threat levels, as seen in Japan, are far higher than even five years ago. China's intermediate-range missiles, now aimed at Taiwan, can also reach Japan's southern shores. North Korea claims that it has weapons of mass-destruction capability."

Solar-Power Military Housing: "The military housing building boom under way in the U.S. has hit the beach in Hawaii where a $2.3-billion partnership is building the world’s largest solar-powered and sustainable community. Faced with inadequate units and new demands from returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as well as the positioning of one of the Army’s six new Stryker Brigades, Army Hawaii Family Housing now is overseeing construction of 5,388 units, renovation of another 2,506 units and infrastructure replacement on Oahu. The work flows from the Military Housing Privatization Act of 1996, which was designed to engage private developers."

Europe’s new nuclear reactors will not be 9/11-proof: "New nuclear reactors planned to be built across Europe are not designed to withstand a 9/11-style aircraft attack by terrorists, a leaked report has revealed."

Brazil city slashes crime by closing its bars early: "A bold and controversial law that shuts down bars and restaurants after 11 p.m. has turned Diadema, one of Brazil's most violent cities, into an urban model, officials say. The law has cut homicides by nearly half and has slashed other crimes by as much as 80 percent after forcing nearly all of the city's 4,800 bars and restaurants in 2002 to stop selling alcohol between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Since then, the homicide rate has dropped by 47 percent, traffic accidents by 30 percent, assaults against women by 55 percent, and alcohol-related hospital admissions by 80 percent, according to Miki."

Battlefield: U.S. by Laura K. Donohue: "Pentagon spies are treating the homeland like a war zone. The scrutiny of the NSA is deserved, but the Senate and the American public may be missing a broader and more disturbing development. For the first time since the Civil War, the United States has been designated a military theater of operations. The Department of Defense — which includes the NSA — is focusing its vast resources on the homeland. And it is taking an unprecedented role in domestic spying."


Israeli Supplier Cuts Gas to Palestinians: "Palestinian gas stations started shutting down and motorists lined up at pumps after an Israeli fuel company cut off deliveries Wednesday, deepening the humanitarian crisis following Hamas' rise to power. An end to fuel supplies for the West Bank and Gaza could cripple hospitals, halt food deliveries and keep people home from work — a devastating scenario for an economy already ravaged by Israeli and international sanctions. The Israeli company Dor Energy, the sole fuel provider to the Palestinians since interim peace agreements in the mid-1990s, cited growing debts for its decision."

Eucalyptus vs. Arabs: "What is the connection between the eucalyptus tree and Jewish-Arab relations? A poster hanging in a nursery for eucalyptus trees reads, "Eucalyptus - an economic, ecological and political alternative." The poster also explains that the eucalyptus, a tree imported from Australia to dry the swamps, helps "preserve the land on the individual and national levels." It does not indicate which nation is meant, but the clear implication is that it helps protect the Jewish nation against the Arab nation that threatens to take control of the land, that planting eucalyptus trees can ensure the land remain under Jewish cultivation."

Peretz approves expansion of four West Bank settlements: "Defense Minister Amir Peretz has approved expansion of four West Bank settlements, the first such approvals under his tenure. The expansion orders enlarged the settlements' "jurisdictional area," a designation which in many cases serves as a prelude to construction of new settlement neighborhoods. Most of the settlements involved are located close to the pre-1967 war Green Line border."

Israel opens Gaza cargo crossing: Israel's new defence minister has ordered the main cargo crossing with the Gaza Strip to be re-opened.

Israel village tries to breach barrier with Palestinians: "At the top of a hill, the long-time resident of this Israeli communal farm stops as a finished section of a barrier being built by the Jewish state in and around the occupied West Bank comes into view. On the other side lies the Palestinian village of Qaffin. [...] But unlike many Israelis who welcome having nothing to do with Palestinians after years of violence and dashed peace hopes, Lieber and other leaders of the communal farm are trying to breach the razor-topped barrier to help their neighbours."

[Image: The GBD-III is the world's most powerful, totally portable, diode pumped green laser targeting and illumination system.]


Lasers to dazzle drivers at Iraqi checkpoints: "US soldiers in Iraq are to use lasers to dazzle drivers who fail to slow down at military checkpoints. But use of these weapons is also controversial as they have the potential to cause permanent harm. Lasers designed to cause permanent blindness were internationally banned under a UN agreement in 1995. The laser device to be rolled out in Iraq is about 25 centimetres long and can be fixed to the barrel of an M-4 rifle. The US military plans to attach the laser to thousands of weapons given to soldiers in Iraq."

50 wi-fi enabled CCTV cameras in central London
: "cameras in the conventional system can only be monitored and refocused from a central control room.But live footage from the wi-fi cameras can be viewed from anywhere covered by the network and they can be controlled locally as well.Ultimately,the police could be watching on a handheld device from around a corner as a crime happens before leaping out to arrest the suspects,having collected the evidence electronically before moving."

Scanner in works to detect nuclear weapons - Livermore lab, others working on reliable device for U.S. ports: "scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and other national labs have been [...] developing new super-scanners to do what no existing scanner can: detect with 100 percent reliability a nuclear weapon concealed within one of the roughly 10 million huge cargo containers that enter the United States every year."

Invention: Bomb jammer: "a US inventor is patenting a way to defeat remote-controlled explosives using ... a series of transmitters [that] would create a self-sustaining bubble of radio frequency noise to prevent terrorists from sending a trigger signal to a hidden bomb.

Automatic Chemical Agent Detector Alarm (ACADA): "The ACADA is an advanced point-sampling, chemical warfare agent detection system that continuously monitors for the presence of nerve agents and blister chemicals using IMS (Ion Mobility Spectrometry) technology. It provides early warning of chemical attacks and can be remotely deployed, vehicle mounted or carried by soldiers."

[Image: Bernard Khoury in the NYT, 2006.]


Middle-East Pieces by NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF: Architect Bernard Khoury takes on the reconstruction of Lebanon, "He has particular contempt for what he says is the pseudohistoric vision of the city favored by Solidere, a development company founded in 1994, which has rebuilt a large area around the Green Line, so named for the vegetation that colonized the strip of abandoned buildings dividing east from west Beirut. Where the war's most intense fighting took place there is now a chic shopping district in the French colonial style — red tile roofs, arcaded streets and sandstone facades — which Khoury, who has become one of the project's most outspoken critics, dismisses as a saccharine image of the past.

"It's a kind of censorship in the middle of the city, a fairy tale," he said, waving his cigar. "It has no relationship to our lives today."

Khoury's criticism of Solidere is not driven simply by disgust at one developer's commercialism. It is a reflection of the difficult path faced by a generation of young Lebanese architects who, having grown up first in a Westernized city — with all that Modernism seemed to promise — and then in the shadow of war, are now trying to piece together a vision for the future."

Give me a shelter: Solar-powered tents, inflatable housing, buildings in a bag. A brief history of Architecture for Humanity (AFH).

Afghan women start businesses, help reconstruct a torn nation: "Women make decorative pieces at the All Afghan Women's Union workshop in Kabul. Some 10,000 women entrepreneurs have been trained in Afghanistan."


Party on at Saddam's palace: "Tuesday night is karaoke night at Saddam Hussein's former Republican Palace in central Baghdad's fortified Green Zone."

Afghanistan, Inc.: A CorpWatch Investigative Report: "Contractors in Afghanistan are making big money for bad work. A highway that begins crumbling before it is finished. A school with a collapsed roof. A clinic with faulty plumbing. A farmers’ cooperative that farmers can’t use. Afghan police and military that, after training, are incapable of providing the most basic security. And contractors walking away with millions of dollars in aid money for the work. The Bush Administration touts the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan as a success story. Perhaps, in comparison to the violence-plagued efforts in Iraq and the incompetence-riddled efforts on the American Gulf Coast, everything is relative. A new report “Afghanistan, Inc.,” issued by the non-profit organization CorpWatch, details the bungled reconstruction effort in Afghanistan."

Dismantling Iraqi Life: "On the corrosive effects of the Bush administration's reconstruction efforts. The image of the Bush administration in Iraq as a bumbling giant, overwhelmed by the destructive forces within Iraqi society, is a pernicious misrepresentation. A close look at the facts on the ground demonstrates that the American occupation itself has been the primary destructive force in Iraq as well as the direct or ultimate source of the bulk of the violence; that the American military, in its zealous pursuit of the resistance, still generates much destruction; and that American reconstruction efforts have -- through greed, corruption, and incompetence -- only deepened the infrastructural crisis. The American presence in Iraq continues to be a force for deconstruction."

Iraq's partition fantasy: "The supporters of an Iraq divided into three ignore the lessons of Iraq's history, says Reidar Visser.The idea of tripartite break-up, on the other hand finds little resonance in Iraqi history. In testimony to their sublime artificiality, contemporary partitionist misnomers like "Shi'istan" and "Sunnistan" are altogether absent from the historical record; like much of the pro-partition advocacy they exist solely in the minds of outsiders who base their entire argument on far-fetched parallels to European political experiences."

In the Black(water) by Jeremy Scahill: "Tens of thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims remain without homes. The environment is devastated. People are disenfranchised. Financial resources, desperate residents are told, are scarce. But at least New Orleans has a Wal-Mart parking lot serving as a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center with perhaps the tightest security of any parking lot in the world. That's thanks to the more than $30 million Washington has shelled out to the Blackwater USA security firm since its men deployed after Katrina hit. Under contract with the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Federal Protective Service, Blackwater's men are ostensibly protecting federal reconstruction projects for FEMA. Documents show that the government paid Blackwater $950 a day for each of its guards in the area."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

War Room

"Where war becomes gaming and gaming becomes war."

Opened in June 2000 as the country’s first six-sided virtual reality room, the C6 VRAC, casually situated in a quiet wing on Iowa State University’s campus, will get more than $4 million in equipment upgrades, this article reports, and that includes: “a HP computer featuring 96 graphics processing units, 24 Sony digital projectors, an eight-channel audio system and ultrasonic motion tracking technology.”

For some, it is a room-sized genetic structure modeling tool. Others use it to engineer preliminary architectural superstructures suspended in hypothetical space, or simulate incredible emergency landings and training flight paths under fake duress. The new money “will shine 100 million pixels on ISU’s six-sided virtual reality room. That’s twice the number of pixels lighting up any virtual reality room in the world and 16 times the pixels now projected on [the] C6,” a 10-foot by 10-foot techno-sublime cubicle space, covered in wall-to-wall computer screens, which will guarantee, as the author says, ”virtual reality at the world’s highest resolution.”

[Image: Overhead schematic view of C6 placement and exterior shell.]

More interesting, is that the end user could one day theoretically be the National Guard, as they prepare to make their way down to the U.S./Mexico border “in a support role” which has cleared them to use the latest and greatest surveillance toys. Researchers at ISU are building a new control room for the military’s UAV drones, which are currently deployed over the southern border region, one of which recently took a nose dive in some ranch near Tucson. They are building “a virtual environment that allows operators to see the vehicles, the surrounding airspace, the terrain they’re flying over as well as information from instruments, cameras, radar and weapons systems. The system would allow a single operator to control many vehicles.”
On the other side of the country, small empires of virtual thrill seekers are paying anywhere from 5 to 60 bucks an hour to hang out and play video games inside the fantastical Holodek. Wired reports on an entertainment venue in New Hampshire described as the Metreon movie complex of gaming: 48 stations with screens ranging from 17 inches to 13 feet, a separate "half-pipe" spherical arena, featuring flight sims and a system which allows other games to be modified for play.

[Image: Holodek, entertainment gaming complex.]

Two projects – similar nature, different purposes, different locations – but, what if they merged?
What if military command posts began to look like video game kiosks, or full on architectural arcades: compact, modular, mobile spaces that can be set up to control battlespaces remotely? Simultaneously, much of the gaming world continues to develop with alarming clarity the virtual realism of real-life cities at war, or, the game space of military urbanism; virtual cities simulated to perfect scale, foreign cities, Arab cities, “hostile cities”, virtualized bunkers of the ‘axis-of-evil’ (slum neighborhoods, maze-like Holy trenches, Mosque watchtowers, ancient caves, etc.).
Both projects are continuing along a path towards an inevitable rendezvous somewhere in the middle, where “virtualized battlespace” and “push-button warfare” becomes increasingly more real by slipping deeper into the virtual terrains of video gaming.

[Image: Iowa State To Have The Most Realistic Virtual Reality Room in the World, Physorg, 2006.]

So, could video games become the ultimate interface for conducting real life warfare?
Could gamers become decorated war heroes by virtue of their eye-and-hand coordination skills, which would eventually dominate the triggers of network-centric remote controlled warfare?
Taking this notion to the extreme, could casual assemblages of home bodies on couches strewn across America become the new command posts for an intercontinental sprawl of robotic warfare? Good old American homes could 'adopt a war bot' abroad, while little Johnny controls it with his new joystick that he’s gotten for Christmas.
These kids would pass back and forth game pads while taking turns hitting simulated bunkers on their little screens that set off real-world explosions on bunkers the other side of the world, under siege from a brackish platoon of swarming militarized war bots; is this where we're headed?

Expert gamers would be called upon to pull off near impossible feats of game physics maneuvering: touchy sensitive force feedback navigations over slippery slopes, or to scuttle across a narrow bridge, or through corridors of inhospitable game geometry; to fly UAV’s through the tightest canyons over anti-air guarded vicinities without being detected. As long as a human touch is required (via some kind of remote controller) to guide (and to some degree - control) the technoscience of the military’s automated army, then gamers could have a hand in their potential success.
Imagine even, if they set it up so that war could be fought from a field of game play cubicles, like this one in Japan; or an institution of dispersed public gaming arcades, kiosks set up in public libraries, portable gaming consoles for fighting terrorists on the move. Gaming conventions and competitions could be set up for the sole purposes of fighting the 'War on Terror'? Fighting war would become a direct aim of the gaming entertainment industry, in fact, it is what has already been called the military-industrial-entertainment-complex.
What if kids, eventually, could even log in from their consoles at home after school, or secretly log on to the 'War on Terror' using their Sony gamepads DURING school, to take control of a few U.S. war bots on the battlefields in Sudan, doing their part for “the free world” against the “axis of evil” all in a few minutes just before the bell rings and Mom calls them home to the dinner table? Homesteading the new frontier on the 'War on Terror'?
Stephen Graham talks about how contemporary urban warfare video games are constructing (as much as they are simulating with gritty realism) an “imaginative geography” of the Arab world by digitizing their cities to scale for the sole purposes of destroying them and hunting down Arab terrorists there. These games play into a larger strategy of “essentializing Arab cities as intrinsically devious labyrinths necessitating high-tech U.S. military assaults to ‘clean’ them of ‘terrorists’.” Games, he notes, that sponsor Fox News coverage of the ‘War on Terror’ in their narration of real life events. All this calls forth, Andrew Deck argues, a “cult of ultra-patriotic xenophobes whose greatest joy is to destroy, regardless of how racist, imperialistic, and flimsy the rationale” for the simulated battle.
But what happens when war becomes totally automated, operationalized, game-ified, conducted through logs and logs of game data, endless streams of RTS maps and pseudo-battlegrounds, through game controllers and cramping twitchy fingers, through an endless replayability factor of war where casualties are mere blips on a screen, another game statistic, a kill-ratio, a gamer ranking?
Of course, I espouse none of this. I’m only curious about the trends in gaming which are emerging as an interface for real war, and a notion of technologized war being conducted more and more as a mode of game play. I guess I can’t help but seeing some sort of new War Room emerging between the evolution of projects like the C6, and the Holodek, which virtually strive to perform the same representations of warfare.
But, perhaps more importantly, how could gamers be called upon – not to fight war - but to solve it?

(To be continued.)

Also, be sure to check out Subtopia's earlier rant on the art of surveillance gaming: The Panoptic Arcade.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

An Inadvertent Fortress Moat

In 2004, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published a report on the environmental hazards posed by over 280 sunken ships littering the 36-mile stretch of Iraq’s coastline along the northern end of the Persian Gulf. 3 wars later (the Iran–Iraq War from 1980 to 1988, the 1991 Gulf War, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003), a broken chain of tankers, tugs, barges, and patrol boats—"many of which still hold petroleum products, unexploded ordnance, and possibly rocket fuel, propellants, and toxic chemicals"—form hulking barricades in a poisoned sea stew sluicing around Iraq’s two and only deep-water ports, which are critical to receiving reconstruction supplies.

According to the UNDP survey, “Aside from the 282 sunken vessels identified in the UNDP survey, hundreds more remain submerged in the channels and estuaries north of Umm Qasr and near the neighbouring territorial waters of Kuwait.”

Leaking oil is the main culprit threatening the Gulf, where close to “80% of people in the region get their freshwater from desalination plants there”, according to this article. But with many of the shipwrecks containing live explosives, the half-submerged galleons are extremely dangerous to move, and in increased counter-clockwise water currents I imagine them swaying around almost like beached whales rolling in the surf, or sunken skyscrapers packed with bombs, “munitions, pesticides, refined fuels, and pollutants” that ooze out industrial chum galaxies from their great steel stomachs stinking of an ocean death. The last 25 years have turned the Iraqi portion of the Gulf into a disastrous toxic graveyard, spreading, territorializing - Occupation in the form of an informal coastal minefield; or, a perfect inadvertent fortress moat.

Asylum world brings us some Google map images of the submerged armada. (And thanks to Javier Arbona for dropping this my way.)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

DIY infrastructure

John Dwyer, an architect in Minneapolis, has designed a self-reliant housing structure that could have a wide reach of potential use all over the world, from disaster recovery to urban slum upgrades, remote refugee facilities, to needed supply of effective relief housing. More specifically, The Clean Hub, as it is called, is meant to function in places where basic infrastructure considerably lacks.
A recent article in Utne describes the 10- by 20-foot prefabricated unit as having “a V-shaped metal roof that collects rainwater and an adjustable array of 16 photovoltaic panels that can generate up to 2,640 watts of electricity. A reverse-osmosis system cleans water stored in a below-ground reservoir, where the gray water from showers and sinks is recycled. The toilets are waterless and self-composting. The building itself has impact-resistant stress-skin walls and secure entry doors, supported by a steel tube and a concrete-pier foundation that can adjust to sloped terrain and poor soil.”

Sounds great. Ironically, these type of self-sufficiency principles are something I wish more suburban McMansions used to base their models on.
Though, while I think it is clever and useful to design structures which are able to operate independently of a larger infrastructure, wouldn’t it be more valuable to come up with a solution which serves as an impetus for improving the more systemic issues of the Third World landscape rather than foregoing the challenge of infrastructure for more micro-self-dependent alternatives? And, while it is certainly intelligent to lessen reliance on public infrastructure (when it is in such a failed state) I wonder, will it only delay improvements to sewage and electricity that are needed on a massive scale? I'm not discounting this project in any way, just trying to understand how to address the longer range problems through even short term models, and what impact those temporary solutions will have in achieving a more comprehensive set of goals.

In other words, how can new housing models not only bring upgraded forms of shelter supply to the effected landscape, but also help play into a larger strategy of establishing more permanent and sustainable resolution to infrastructure in desperate communities, hoping for more significant planning change? Dwyer says, “The Clean Hub can serve temporary settlements such as refugee camps, but its 30-year life span makes it most suitable for semipermanent slums that lack basic infrastructure.” But, again, shouldn’t we be trying to accept slums as permanent (not the quality of their physical states, but their location and hopes to secure their own land rights status)? Therefore, shouldn't we be trying to improve these constructs for the long term? Are these housing units transportable, so, in the case of a slum clearance they would not be lost? Don’t the slums need more fixed solutions, that can help them improve their chances of permanence rather than accommodating the transitory nature of slum clearance policies?

Nevertheless, it is an encouraging project, and an important reminder that architects do have a crucial role to play in helping impoverished communities to improve their own conditions. Dwyer’s firm Shelter Architecture worked closely with the Minnesota chapter of Architecture for Humanity to consider the challenges, and hope to build a prototype that will eventually be able to make in roads to achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which call for significantly improving the lives of at least 100 million of the world's 1 billion slum dwellers by 2020.

Here is a short interview with John Dwyer from last year. And check out the AFH-MN blog, Blog Like You Give a Damn, which is running a good 13-part series on the Tsunami reconstruction landscape.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Akin to something crossed between the grassroots filmmaking of Kids with Cameras and the participatory-culture of the Border Film Project, MAQUILAPOLIS, or “City of Factories”, is a self-produced documentary made by (and about) the female workers in Tijuana's sprawling maquiladora assembly factories.
Shot on digital cameras distributed to a group of promotoras (community-based activists) after a six-week technical training and story-telling workshop, the film follows and “meets women who are each dealing with the hardships of environmental toxins, labor rights abuse, infrastructure and housing issues”, and, among other things - women's rights.
Filmmaker Vicky Funari, and artist Sergio De La Torre, collaborated together with the women's organization Grupo Factor X in Tijuana, to organize and help the workers adapt the camera to their daily lives. Through a series of intimate narratives and teamwork, the documentary assembles a portrait of a community managing to create “liveable solutions to the complexities of life in a globalized city“.

Sergio is a friend of a good friend of mine (both of whom are doing great work), but I have to say, this looks like a fascinating project - and I can't wait to see it. The film “approaches the workers as experts who can provide us with keys to our common future” the website reads, “inviting them to co-author their own story on videotape.” And, isn’t that what it's all about: communities coming together to bring their own stories to the forefront of larger debates, empowered by grassroots artistic collaboration?
Though I haven't seen it yet, I will venture to say, what sounds most promising about Maquilapolis besides any poignancy of what it reveals about the maquiladoras themselves (or the real-life cultural impact of “globalization” on the Mexican side of the border), isn’t just the cinematic experience the film leaves behind, but, rather, what it has already gone on to establish with this community of workers for the future. The women continue to use the cameras today as a sort of fixed apparatus for recording and relaying the ongoing struggles and visions of their daily lives, symbolically empowered by their use of the very consumer products they assemble in the factories. The filmmakers are actually looking for additional funding to host an editing workshop in hopes of encouraging more people to become active in the day-to-day documentary story-telling of their plight playing out along the border.

[Image: Tribeca Review of Maquilapolis, 04.13.06.]

With all the vitriolic attention on immigration spit out in the media these days, distorted by gross exaggerations of the border being the number one threat to U.S. national security, the time for a genuine depiction of US/Mexico border geopolitics -- made (and told) by the people central to the confluence of hardships there -- is crucial to our understanding of why, and how, we should seriously consider addressing the region.
In short, the hype over how the maquialdoras were going to boost the Mexican economy has hardly panned out, nor has this industry at all helped to alleviate the pressure of illegal immigration to the United States. In the last 20 years the US/Mexico border has been the fastest growing population of any border region anywhere in the world. There are 12 million illegal immigrants estimated living through out the U.S., but the numbers also suggest approximately 12 million people have migrated to the southern border in that same time, driven by an explosion in consumer goods manufacturing and import/export markets, which have made the 2000 mile stretch the most densely populated geography between any neighboring First and Third world nations. An additional 10-15 million are predicted to crash the border zone by 2020.

[Image: Bridging Troubled Waters in Ambos Nogales
by Miriam Davidson, 1998.]

According to Tyche Hendricks in the SF Chron, “The largest concentration of maquiladora jobs is in Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, followed by Tijuana, just south of San Diego. Reynosa, across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas, is third in maquiladora employment.” He goes on to write that Reynosa employs “more than 92,000 workers in 200 factories [that] produce everything for the U.S. market from distributor caps to candy canes. Those jobs have made border cities into magnets for workers from the interior of Mexico, where government support for subsistence agriculture has evaporated. The largely American-owned factories, which first arose in 1965, now employ nearly 1.2 million people.” There are approximately 3,500 plus maquiladoras currently operating along the border today.
The failure of the maquiladoras is largely in part because they are essentially legitimized slave factories as opposed to any kind of viable economic alternative for Mexico's grossly lopsided economy. From what I've heard, the average wage of a worker is around $95 a week, and that's working overtime. Further, neither country’s labor policy has served in any way to discourage exploitation on either side of the fence, but rather has had the opposite effect. “These massive cross-border flows occur by design” says Douglas S. Massey, “under the auspices of the North American Free Trade Agreement. But at the heart of NAFTA lies a contradiction: Even as the United States moves to promote free movement of goods, services, capital and information, we as a nation somehow seek to prevent the movement of labor. We wish to create a North American economy that integrates all markets except one: that for labor“.

[Image: Maquiladoras, by Ingolf Vogeler.]

Those concerns have also been compounded by transnational companies shopping around the globe for competitive exploitable labor, and recent moves have taken many of the jobs to labor markets in Asia. This article reported that roughly 226,000 workers, in a relative short period of time between 2000-01, were laid off by these foreign companies as massive shifts of maquiladora portfolios left Mexico. The author says, “And where do you think all those people went?”
To further show that the maquiladoras have not helped to reduce the influx of illegal immigration, Hendricks cites a U.S. report showing that the number of people working in these factories along the border still continues to rise, as do the number of factories themselves. From '90 to '05 Maquiladora jobs in Mexico have increased from 454,432 to 1,174,234. So, it is not entirely unobvious to assume that the constant increase in the number of factories crowding the border and the people they employ are in some part responsible, if even perhaps indirectly, to the surge in the number of border-crossers.
Massey, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University and co-author of the book "Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in an Age of Economic Integration," has stated, “Instead of viewing Mexican migration as a pathological product of rampant poverty and rapid population growth, we should see it for what it is: a natural byproduct of economic development in a relatively wealthy country undergoing a rapid transition to low fertility in close association with the United States.”

[Image: Many of the homes in Chilpancingo are made out of packing crates the workers buy from the maquilas, 2002.]

To make matters even worse, while the debate remains polarized between a conservative agenda seeking to convert the issue of immigration into one of national security (in order to contract billions of dollars into militarizing the border), and the left, who at least emphasizes the issue as a complex permutation of our own labor policy and practice - the other great concern (which seems to get less and less attention) is the swelling environmental crisis that consumes the region in nightmarish swaths of habitat degradation and catastrophic waste-disposal.
As most of us know, environmental justice is generally linked to economic and social justice. So, it can be the least bit surprising to attempt an explanation of the overwhelming poverty that has piled up along the border and the issue of mass illegal immigration in terms of the environmental consequences systemic to the institution of exploited labor that has defined the border.

[Image: Community members built this makeshift bridge across the river of run-off that divides the two sides of Chilpancingo, 2002.]

The state of roads and sewage infrastructure in most border cities “is sliding toward desperate," says UC Berkeley Professor Harley Shaiken, an expert in labor and trade. "The maquilas are paying minimal if any taxes, and the result is an infrastructure that is inadequate to the growth taking place."
According to a friend of mine, Chris Nelson, who is focussing on environmental policy enacted around the border, “Approximately 11% of all the trash in Texas's Rio Grande Valley landfills in 2002 came from maquiladoras.” Meanwhile, Tijuana is an environmental disaster. Nelson proposes an overall strategy of cleaning up the border as a way to begin restructuring the transborder economy of the region through mutual civic projects that incentivize environmental responsibility, and by bringing forth comprehensive and progressive socio-economic transformation programs through "operationalizing industrial ecology".

[Image: Ecoparque, an experimental water filration/irrigation project on the steep hillsides of Tijuana.]

Anyway, more on that later. In the meantime, if you get a chance to go see the documentary – do it. Here’s the schedule of dates. And, if you have any spare cash, don’t be afraid to donate. And, if you do manage to see this, shoot me an email, or comment here, because I’d love to hear responses to this. If I get chance to see it, I’ll post a review here. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Carceral Wombs

On the border of Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, communities are caught in the middle of warring drug cartels, many of which end up in the Laredo Penitentiary. But for other cartels the prison is a secret institution for regional power. In this photo essay by journalist Charles Bowden and Penny De Los Santos, we see a world where cartels not only run the prisons from behind bars, but they incarcerate a huge number of women sex slaves who share prison cells with their baby young.

Bowden writes, “Incarceration, like law, is a bit different in Mexico. Conjugal visits are permitted; small children younger than six can be locked up with their moms; and men and women peddle goods and themselves within the walls in order to survive. Mexican prisons often do not provide grub. I’ve stood in line with family members who toted a week’s supply of food on visiting day, seen women reel out of cells in disarray after their weekly intercourse sessions with their men.”

“The women may come in clean, but they don’t stay that way. In Nuevo Laredo, they’re high by 10 a.m., then they spruce up and go off to the men’s area to make some money. By afternoon they return, their necks laced with hickeys. Convicts run the prison, and the guards do as they are told by the dominant inmates. People get killed. And all this goes on with toddlers underfoot.”

”In Nuevo Laredo’s El Penal II, the cells currently hold 71 women. Some get pregnant while inside. At any one time, there are 4 to 10 kids living behind bars. For many, their options are limited: Go to prison with mom, or go to an orphanage. Once the children reach age six, they are tossed out.”

[View more images and read the full article in Born Into Cellblocks by Charles Bowden in the May/June 2006 Issue of Mother Jones Magazine.]

An Apartheid Travel System

[Image: Construction of apartheid road in al Jeeb destroys Palestinian lands, Stop the Wall Campaign, 2006]

As the result of a recent Israeli High Court decision that approved the completion of the annexation wall around Jerusalem, “Stop the Wall” (the Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign) reports on a new "alternative" road that is being built for Palestinians through the town of Al Jeeb north of Jerusalem, to devise an “Apartheid travel system” that will give the colonizers exclusive use over the original road in the area, which Palestinians have used for centuries.
“Settlers in Bet Horon, Giv’at Ze’ev and Giv’on Hdsha have used the road for decades (as well) as it enables them to connect to other Zionist colonies across Jerusalem.” With the new “alternative” road,” says the Palestinian activist group, “the Occupation seals the use of the historical road for Jews-only.”
After serving Palestinians with eviction orders to make way for demolitions in the south of Al Jeeb, the Occupation has already begun uprooting Palestinian farming lands in the area. “Over 200 dunums of Palestinian land are to be destroyed.” Furthermore, “This process will see more Palestinian lands in the West Bank destroyed – [and] in one area, Palestinians will be funneled under the colonizer road using a tunnel.”
"The bypass roads" writes Eyal Weizman, "attempt to separate Israeli traffic networks from Palestinian ones, preferably without allowing them ever to cross. They emphasise the overlapping of two separate geographies that inhabit the same landscape."
So, with an exclusive Jewish transit system and a parallel ghettoized infrastructure for the Palestinians, how is the issue of border territory and the sovereignty of passage managed?
Weizman goes on to explain, "Both the valley the road spans over, and the city it dives under, are areas handed over to limited Palestinian sovereignty under the Oslo accord. The physical separation is mirrored in a political one. As with the Temple Mount proposals, the ‘border’ stretches along a horizontal line. The city above is under Palestinian limited sovereignty; the road below it is within Israeli jurisdiction."
The UN even has a stake of jurisdiction in some of the underground spaces at certain depths, while the Palestinians remain completely surrounded, as Israel claims ownership of the air space over the West Bank.
This sort of sedimentary-layered power structure indicates the interwoven volumetric nature of political space that Weizman speaks of which constitutes a three-dimensional urbanism of occupation. "In the West Bank, bridges are no longer just devices engineered to overcome a natural boundary or connect impossible points. Rather, they become the boundary itself, separating the two national groups across the vertical dimension." More explanation can be read in the chapter Roads — over and under (The Politics of Verticality).

Read more on Eyal Weizman's work here.

Congrats to Eyal Weizman

Subtopia would like to extend a big congratulations to architect and educator Eyal Weizman who was recently selected as the winner of the 2006–07 James Stirling Memorial Lectures on the City Competition for his proposal: Destruction by Design: Military Strategy as Urban Planning. Weizman, to say the least, has spent years pioneering research on the ‘military urbanism’ of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has not always been supported, sadly to say. But his work has forced a new critique of what occupation means in an architectural and urban sense, where space is inherently political and "the frontier" of occupied territory is constructed as much by military generals as it is by planners and intellectuals. The result is a new hyper-dimensional form of spatial warfare designed to negate the progress of a Palestinian State from virtually every angle; an urban space remade strictly for the purposes of exerting military control over a neighboring population.

In 2002, he and fellow architect Rafi Segal won an architectural competition sponsored by the IAUA (the Israel Association of United Architects), who were then asked to present an exhibition on Israeli architecture at the World Congress of Architecture in Berlin. The two proposed an in-depth examination of Israeli architecture as a civilian weapon in the Middle East conflict, which was quickly banned by the IAUA. Facing suppression, the exhibition was called off ‘under the pretext of a low budget’, and in the wake of sudden controversy, thousands of copies of their project which had already been printed were tossed, money wasted, and the sensitive architectural world of the IAUA backpedaled reeling with disassociation from their project. The two eventually found another publisher and released a series of essays and graphics in a powerful book called “A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture”.

Eyal Weizman has continued to develop this theme further in an ongoing project he calls "The Politics of Verticality" (listen to this audio-recorded lecture), a brilliant documentation and analysis of how Israeli military strategists and urban planners have collaborated to enact a long term strategy of using settlement occupation and the policy of a militarized ‘border urbanism’ (see Ariel Sharon and the Geometry of Occupation, pt.'s 1, 2, 3.) to control Palestinian homeland in the West Bank. What should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in the topic of a ‘military urbanism’, Weizman’s seminal work describes an evolution of land grab by Jewish settlers who took over the hilltops overlooking the Palestinian villages in illegal settlements that functioned as a sort of panoptic suburbia and elevated form of topographic control over the valleys and farmlands that are critical to a Palestinian livelihood.
Read it, check it out.
It gets into so much more than that: he makes explosive connections between Israeli ideologies of power and how they have been translated into planning based on notions of security and a military dissection of urban space.

Weizman’s research looks objectively through the prism of architecture to reveal a three dimensionality of frontier space in the West Bank, where the less than visible spectrum of a 'politics of space' imbricate the landscape through an architectural weaponry that deploys security barriers, military checkpoints, tunnel and air space, alternate forms of urban infrastructure, and military backed civilian settlements to enforce what he calls ‘the politics of separation’. The Israeli occupation is a flexible and non-linear form of fortification, a “deep space” topology of control fused into the ambiguous territory of the frontier, where contested space and property entitlement are underwritten by tactical modes of agricultural warfare, dominated by an asymmetric system of settlement outposts that serves as wedges between Palestinian villages, while the IDF exercises methodical campaigns of urbicide and demolition (or, a ‘design by destruction’) to continually carve up the West Bank into enclaves of control, to the point of the Palestianian landscape being coerced into an urban and architectural matrix of total population control. Through his depictions of the verticality and three-dimensional spatiality of a military controlled urban landscape, Weizman also produced an amazingly coherent set of maps of the West Bank in conjunction with B’tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which reveals in a frightening visual display, the invisible geosptial complexity that has shaped an urbanism of the Israel-Palestinian conflict over the last 20 years.

The bi-annual James Stirling Memorial Lectures on the City competition began in 2003 “to inaugurate a unique forum for the advancement of new critical perspectives on the role of urban design and urban architecture in the development of cities worldwide.” Weizman will present the Stirling Lecture in autumn 2006 at the CCA in Montreal, and at the London School of Economics in autumn 2007.

In this article from Canadian Architect, “Weizman's recent work analyzed the military's use of critical theory as an analogue to its use (and misuse) in architecture and urbanism. His proposal looks at the way contemporary warfare increasingly plays itself out within real as well as imaginary urban settings, through the destruction, construction, reorganization, and subversion of space, to show that the urban environment is understood by military strategists today not simply as the backdrop for conflict, nor as its mere consequence, but as a dynamic field locked in a feedback-based relationship with the diverse forces operating within it.

The Stirling Lecture will focus on the way Israeli, American, and British militaries, as well as NATO forces, are currently conceptualizing and operating within the urban domain. As urban warfare has come to resemble urban planning, military training programs have instituted theoretical research centres to study the complexity of cities, allowing the battleground to be reshaped to meet strategic objectives. The ultimate aim of Weizman's research is to deepen and extend our empirical knowledge of the theoretical framework contemporary militaries consider essential to the development of strategic policy and tactical operations, in order to sharpen potential critiques of these operations. An important component is Weizman's exploration of the history of strategic urban warfare, since many of the tactics celebrated as radically "new" have in fact been part and parcel of military operations in cities throughout history.

The project delves into themes such as how the ever-expanding urban domain is effectively being redesigned as the field of military operations in response to the development of "lethal" weapons of destruction; how language employed by the military to describe the city to themselves and to the general public reveals an evolving relationship between organized violence and the production of space; how new military tactics irreparably disrupt traditional distinctions between public and private space and the vital flows of goods and services guaranteed by conventional urban infrastructure; the urban and symbolic consequences of removing bombing targets such as historical or religious monuments, the fabric of urban neighbourhoods, and essential infrastructure; and how the replacement of existing systems of circulation with new ones enables military access not only for the protection of the city's inhabitants, but also for the purpose of controlling popular unrest.”

Eyal Weizman is also the Director of the practice-driven MA and PhD Programmes in Research Architecture for Goldsmiths College at the University of London, and keeps a sporadic blog on the university's site.

(Thanks to Mason White at Archinect for being the bearer of great news.)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Peripheral Milit_Urb 5

[Image: "Mock Iraqi Villages in Mojave Prepare Troops for Battle" NYT, 2006]


Virtual war: to be as if (Space and Culture): "In a 1,000-square-mile region on the edge of Death Valley, Arab-Americans, many of them from the Iraqi expatriate community in San Diego, populate a group of mock villages resembling their counterparts in Iraq."
Charging Bison: Urban Warfare Rehearsals Come to Winnipeg: The City of Winnipeg has long had a surprisingly large military footprint. In addition to housing the Canadian regional NORAD headquarters, the city is home to an airforce base, 17 Wing, and the soon-to-be-redeveloped Kapyong Barracks. (CityStates: IUS Blog)
Fear Factor (by John Hockenberry): Designing in a post 9/11 world has forced architects and planners to revisit some basic tenets and beliefs. (related: After the Fall: Why City Planners Must Seek Answers About 9/11)
Bunker battle in Barnet: "There's trouble brewing in the Mill Hill area, where SLLB Architects claim to have finally been given permission to convert a cold war nuclear bunker, situated just off Partingdale Lane, into a luxury home, complete with new glass penthouse."
The Most Unique and Secure Real Estate In The World: Silohome (via things magazine)
'Zero Tolerance' comes to Brazil: Rio authorities are rolling out a crime-fighting plan that mirrors policies Rudy Giuliani used in New York and Mexico City. Urbanized Beach Surveillance.
A Fortress Seen from Space: A follow up on the embassy going up in Baghdad.
Homeless Heroes: The next generation of American Veterans is on its way home. Over 1.3 million American troops have already served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and tens of thousands more will return from combat over the years to come. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, nearly 200,000 American veterans are homeless on any given night, and over 400 of those homeless veterans served in Iraq.
Base realignment in Korea spurs protest: Farmers protested Thursday as work intensified on a base that will expand to include US headquarters.
Residents of the Mexican town of San Salvador Atenco rose up against police on Wednesday, chasing them out of town and taking control.
Seminar Seeks to Streamline Disaster Relief: This week, the Marine Corps partnered with Joint Forces Command to host "Joint Urban Warrior 2006 Homeland Security/Homeland Defense," a seminar examining what happens when the military must support civil authorities in response to a major domestic natural disaster.
Bunker hunter (WMMNA): Over 3000 bunkers, built between 1882 and 1995, are scattered around Swizerland. Over the course of four years, Leo Fabrizio has documented these military strongholds. Real fortresses camouflaged amidst the rocks, hidden behind greenery and beneath improbable decorations, the Swiss bunkers, through a series of unconventional images, bear witness to an "armed neutrality" and provide a useful instrument for analysing the relationship between landscape and architecture.

[Image: The concrete portion of Israel’s West Bank security barrier has become an inviting canvas for artists from around the world who sympathize with the Palestinians. Above, a mural by a foreign artist near the Bethlehem checkpoint. (David Blumenfeld for the Boston Globe)


'It Takes a Village' (by Gideon Levy): "The IDF has declared war on the small village, which is interfering with its training: checkpoints, demolition orders, night forays, confiscation of ID cards, arrests and expulsions...."
Israeli barrier draws artists to a cause: Many Palestinians object to paintings as disguising reality.
Plans for Jerusalem split outlined: Israel’s new government is drawing up a blueprint for dividing the holy city of Jerusalem - a once inconceivable notion - giving the Palestinians nearly all the Arab neighborhoods while holding onto Jewish areas and disputed holy shrines.
Breaking barriers: The international press may not report them, but anti-occupation Israelis are increasingly forming alliances with Palestinians to protest.


US seeks options for Iraq, finds few answers: Senator Biden's 'third way' - divide Iraq in order to save it - gets little support from experts.
Three years after looting of Iraqi National Museum: an official whitewash of US crime
100,000 Families Are Fleeing Violence, Iraq Official Says: A new estimate by one of Iraq's vice presidents has put the number of families who have fled their homes at 100,000, a number far greater than recent projections by other Iraqi officials and one that further clouds the debate over how deeply sectarian conflicts are affecting the nation.
Families hunt for Iraq's 'lost': More than 34,000 Iraqis have been jailed, but officials often do not know where.
Senate Speaks: No Permanent Bases In Iraq: Yesterday, the Senate unanimously passed an amendment to the Iraq supplemental spending bill proposed by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) that would require the Bush administration not to use any appropriated funds for the construction of permanent bases in Iraq. The amendment also called for the U.S. not exercise control over Iraqi oil.
American Gangs, Iraqi Turf (Archinect): Members of Chicago's Latin Kings, Gangster Desciples and Vice Lords serving in Iraq are doing what any gang would do when faced with virgin turf: staking their claim with graffiti.


War privatisation talks in Warsaw: The increasing privatisation of war is being discussed at a Warsaw conference.
A government in search of cover: PMCs in Iraq (by David Isenberg): Paper prepared for "Market Forces: Regulating Private Military Companies," March 23-24, 2006
Blood is Thicker Than Blackwater: Lawsuits by families of soldiers-for-hire killed in Falluja have put a major war profiteer in the cross-hairs.
Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers (Robert Greenwald): A quest to make a film.

[Image: on the location of lethality and agency... (brick house).]


Against the Grain (Critical Spatial Practice): is a radio and web media project whose aim is to provide in-depth analysis and commentary on a variety of matters - political, economic, social and cultural - important to progressive and radical thinking and activism.
Finland buries its nuclear past: An unprepossessing tunnel entrance set in low forest on the western coast of Finland marks the probable final resting place of the country's most dangerous nuclear waste.
Report: Congress should cut $62 billion of Cold War weapons programs: Non-partisan study recommends using money to improve homeland security, halt spread of nuclear weapons.
The Other Japanese Occupation (By John Dower): The expansive, prewar Imperial Japan bears some striking similarities to our own present government.
Angela Davis: U.S. is backing torture: The United States is emerging as the prison guard of the world, Angela Davis told a UW-Madison audience Thursday.
Soldiers and Suits / pt. 2 (brick house).

[Image: "A team crewing NASA's Mars Desert Research Station, a simulated planetary environment in the Utah desert, has been experimenting this week with software that can talk to the crew about the status of their spacecraft's systems." (BLDGBLOG).]


A simulated planetary environment in the Utah desert (BLDGBLOG).
Israel satellite 'to spy on Iran'
The Total Information Awareness Project Lives On
: Technology behind the Pentagon's controversial data-mining project has been acquired by NSA, and is probably in use.
Your Thoughts Are Your Password (By Lakshmi Sandhana): What if you could one day unlock your door or access your bank account by simply "thinking" your password? Too far out? Perhaps not.
U.S. moves to quash privacy suit against AT&T: The Bush administration said Friday that it will ask a federal judge to dismiss a privacy rights group's lawsuit against AT&T over the company's reported role in a government surveillance program, because the case might expose state secrets.
Feds' Watch List Eats Its Own: Newly released government documents show that even having a high-level security clearance won't keep you off the Transportation Security Administration's Kafkaesque terrorist watch list, where you'll suffer missed flights and bureaucratic nightmares.
Maps of mass destruction (phronesisaical).
How to spot a terrorist (MoJo Blog).
The RFID Hacking Underground (By Annalee Newitz): They can steal your smartcard, lift your passport, jack your car, even clone the chip in your arm. And you won't feel a thing. 5 tales from the RFID-hacking underground.
Your actions follow you around (WMMNA): Dave Chiu and Didier Hillhorst have developed an interesting concept of what they call Reputation Management Service. Interesting because it gives a glimpse of what tomorrow could bring but i also find it rather frightening (and not just because i never ever pay my bills on time). RentAThing enables negotiation for access by addressing risk.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

KBR, Iraq

[Image: The Al Fatah oil pipeline project, Iraq. The Money Pit (New York Times), 2006]

A must read from the New York Times a few days ago on KBR designed disasters, the bombing of oil pipeline infrastructure, pissing away 5 million dollars a day in leaks, no-bids and dubious contractual immunity, tectonic warfare in the Middle East, shutting out the inspectors, and a miserably wounded gushing Iraqi landscape which, in the end, comes to resemble something like the final scene in Werner Herzog’s film ‘Lessons of Darkness’; his classic musical sweep over the burning Kuwaiti oil fields leftover from the Gulf War, where in the end the contractors who have been fighting to extinguish the raging fires now near completion. “Has life without fire become unbearable to them?” Herzog asks. With a simple flick of a flame, two figures set the fields ablaze, chuckling with cigarettes dangling from their mouths as if to extend their firefighting contracts indefinitely, hijacking the landscape - dousing it to burn it over and over again.

So, when the Army inspectors showed up to inspect construction being done on the banks of the Tigris River outside Baghdad, what they found, James Glanz writes, “that day in July 2004 looked like some gargantuan heart-bypass operation gone nightmarishly bad. A crew had bulldozed a 300-foot-long trench along a giant drill bit in their desperate attempt to yank it loose from the riverbed.” This was a rescue attempt after the company in charge had instructed more drilling even though project crews knew that creating new holes was not possible.

A few weeks later, after the project had burned up all of the $75.7 million allocated to it, the work came to a halt.

In late January, 2004, drilling began. The plan called for boreholes to accommodate 15 pipelines, which would arc beneath the Tigris at shallow angles. Troubles turned up instantly. Every time workers plied the riverbed with their drills, they found it was like sticking their fingers into a jar of marbles: each time they pulled the drills out, the boulders would either shift and erase the larger holes or snap off the bits.

[Image: "The failed project to restore critical pipelines at the Fatah crossing has been a major factor in Iraq's disappearing oil output since the invasion of 2003." - NYT, 2006]

The area had turned out to be a fault zone, where two great pieces of the earth’s crust had shifted and torn the underground terrain into jagged boulders, voids, cobblestones and gravel. It was just the kind of “tectonic” shift that the Fugro report had warned of — hardly the smooth clays and sandstones that KBR had suggested the drillers would find.

The crew abandoned the first borehole and started a second, the inspector general reported. Twenty-six days later, the borehole went through. But the crews found it impossible to enlarge the hole enough for a 30-inch pipe to pass through. By the end of March, five months after arriving in Iraq, they managed to jam a 26-inch pipe through.

The crews would never again get anything larger than that across the riverbed. To make matters worse, the project suffered from constant equipment shortages, just as Mr. Cox, the Army Corps project manager, had predicted.

If KBR had declined to write performance clauses into the drill subcontract, the company had also included language that prevented the crews from speaking directly with the Army Corps, let alone passing along word that some of them knew that the effort was futile.

More Reading:
Lament of the Profiteer (Slate) (Via: MoJo Blog)
ARMY, INC. (The New Yorker)
Attacks 'mar Iraq reconstruction' (BBC)
A Reconstruction Abyss in Iraq (Council on Foreign Relations)
$248M for 150 health clinics, wait make that 20 (Archinect)