Thursday, February 26, 2009

The "Legislative Violence" of Gaza

[Image: Photo: Pavel Wolberg (via).]

In light of the "scale of Israel's twenty-two-day attack on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 - which killed 1,300 people and damaged or destroyed about 15% of all its buildings," writes Eyal Weizman -- "The emerging landscape of "lawfare" allows military operations to remake international humanitarian law. Israel's assault on Gaza both exposes the dangers and suggests the need for a response that subjects this law to critique.” On "Legislative Violence":

“The new frontiers of military development, which complement developments in the area of surveillance and targeting, are being explored via a combination of legal technologies and complex institutional practices. The former American general and military judge Charles Dunlap has called the result lawfare: "the use of law as a weapon of war." By lawfare Dunlap primarily meant to show how weaker, non-state actors were seeking to gain a moral advantage by claiming that war crimes have been committed by the stronger, state army; but lawfare could also be used by the state (see Charles Dunlap, "Lawfare amid warfare", Washington Times, 3 August 2007).” […]

“The legal scholar David Kennedy claims that lawfare "demonstrates an emergent relation between modern war and modern law" (see Of War and Law, Princeton University Press, 2006). It is exemplified in the way that, for example, military lawyers in the midst of a campaign "legally [condition] the battlefield" by poring over target-maps and informing soldiers in what way they are entitled to kill civilians. IHL then becomes the ethical vocabulary for marking legitimate power and justifiable death.”

“Although the claim that having laws of war is a good thing can still be accepted, it is necessary to be alert to the structural paradox they pose: for when they prohibit some things, they authorise others, and it is the border between the allowed and the forbidden that is the most intense legal battlefield.”

“International law can be thought of not as a static body of rules but rather as an endless series of conflicts over this border. The question is not which interpretation is right, but who has the power to force their interpretation into becoming authoritative. In this sense, international law does not merely legitimate violence but actually relies on it.”

N. Gordon, "How to sell 'ethical warfare'"
S. Graham, ”'Clean territory': urbicide in the West Bank”
L. Feldinger, “First evidence of damage to Gaza’s cultural sites emerges”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Captives of Lewis and Clark

Up until now U.S. naval ships operating against pirates based in Somalia have been somewhat restricted. According to the Baltimore Sun, “U.S. warships could seize the pirates but had no authority to detain them or turn them over for criminal prosecution.” Yet, through a new agreement with the Kenyan government the U.S. Navy has gained the authority now to detain pirates long enough to transfer them to Kenya where they we be prosecuted and punished.
The Sun's article describes the Navy’s new mission in the Gulf of Aden, Task Force 151, set up just last month to help patrol roughly “a million square miles of water squeezed between the coast of Somalia and the Arabian Peninsula.”
Each year “26,000 merchant ships and oil tankers traverse this vital sea lane of global commerce. […] Last year the seizure of ships by Somali pirates leapt nearly 200 percent, reaching 111 reported attacks, according to the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in London.”

But, it’s not simply isolated there, as you know. “Last month, for example, there were 32 attempted attacks on ships around the world; of those, eight occurred in the Gulf of Aden.”
As part of a larger multinational effort, the U.S. 5th Fleet has sent additional ships into the gulf, that will be joined by the Coast Guard and other combat Marine search and seizure teams. While the UN uses UNOSAT to watch the seas from space, the Navy is using “an unmanned aerial spy plane known as the ScanEagle for target surveillance.” In what Navy Commander Stephen Murphy has described as “sort of racial profiling at sea,” the drone’s aerial footage is used “to help determine whether those on board the skiff are ethnic Somalis, and thus more likely to be pirates, or simply fishermen from elsewhere.”

[Image: USNS Lewis and Clark, via Global Security.]

Yet, what interests me most in all of this is one vessel in particular that will be joining this crew – the USNS Lewis and Clark, an old 689-foot, 24,000-ton Navy cargo ship, or T-AKE supply ship, that has been converted into a naval detention facility. According to Strategy Page, this ship has had its crew reduced from 158 to 118 so accommodations for 26 prisoners could be improvised.
The T-AKE we learn “is the grandchild of the Servron” which developed out of necessity during World War II, “because of a lack of sufficient forward bases in the vast Pacific.” The service squadrons (Servron) became a permanent fixture in the U.S. Navy backing up the other ships with feul, supplies and essential cargo.

[Image: USNS Lewis and Clark, via Global Security.]

Neverthess, not to our surprise, these Servrons also acted as prison ships during WWII. I haven't got much info but will soon enough on that chapter.
But for now, you can add the USNS Lewis and Clark to the list. In addition to concerns about mistakenly detaining innocent fisherman or innocents others, what could also be potentially very worrisome is whether this vessel will have any use or role in the roundup and rendition of ‘terrorist suspects’ in the good ol’ ‘War on Terror’ where too little transparency around unlawful detention and rendition exists.
If you read this article you will note, “Currently, six (T-AKE’s) are in service and eight are on order. The fourteen T-AKEs will replace 16 existing supply (separate ammo, cargo and fuel) ships that are reaching the end of their 35 year service life this year.” Not to read too much into things, but that could spell fourteen new prison ships soon circulating international waters. With the capacity for each to hold roughly 25 detainees, that would be 350 persons that could one day be swallowed up by the indefinite chambers of the nomadic fortress at sea.
Anyway, not to jump to any grim conclusions, all I'm sayin' is it's another ship to watch as the waves roll on.

The Floating Labor Camps of the Now

[Image: According to the Financial Times, this is the former prison ship that houses foreign workers employed at Lindsey Refinery, at Grimsby docks.]

In the last few weeks fierce demonstrations and strikes have erupted across Britain over the issue of foreign labor. “Some 6,000 workers across over 20 construction sites at power stations and oil refineries took unofficial action as part of the dispute” from sites all across England, Scotland and Wales.
This all seems to have ignited around some of the dealings at the Kent power station, which – as far as I can tell – has been subcontracting major labor contracts to firms who use foreign laborers exclusively, which of course has set off a firestorm over cheap labor moving in on the territory of the local workforce.
Tough times, tough economies, the borders of desperate capitalism bursting wide open at the seams.
Now, admittedly I know nothing about this situation. There are apparently a number of firms who have been granted contracts that UK labor unions claim have been dolling out work to non-British citizens: from Polish and Lithuanian construction workers to Italian and Portuguese, primarily.
The Socialist Worker made this comment: “Behind the rash of strikes in the construction industry lies a concerted attempt by multinational construction companies to tear up hard-won agreements covering the safety, wages and conditions on multi-million pound sites.” In the same article they point to the Financial Times who reported "building bosses admitting to using the subcontracting system to try and hold down militancy in the industry.” The real reason, Socialist Worker says groups of workers are being shipped in is to control the subcontracting system.
It’s not a surprise, nor is it even remotely unfathomable.
But, labor politics aside, what caught my attention in all of this was the vessel one company has used to bring over Italian laborers and house them as well, moored on the docks for the duration of their contract.
According to this article, it is quite literally an old prison barge that’s been converted into dismally cheap shelter. Not only is the interior what you mght expect of an old prison ship, but “Italian workers living there claimed they could not leave it without being attacked by angry locals.” They are being vanned in to the sites for their protection.
Wow. Not only is it literally and functionally an old prison ship but by virtue of the violence looming on the outside of those walls they are even all the more confined there.

[I haven’t been able to dig up any interesting info on this thing, I'm still searching though. If anyone out there has some scoop on this particular vessel, or any similar such scenarios, please contact me. I would appreciate it greatly!]

Some interesting comments appeared at the bottom of this link which seem too important in my own ignorance not to mention. Stevie Robbo, from Manchester writes:

“That’s one of the reasons how it’s cheaper to employ foreign workers. By NAECI (National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry) agreement, which governs wages on these sites, all employees are paid a set hourly rate for craftsmen, labourers etc have another predetermined rate of pay.
British workers would get an accommodation allowance of approx £200 to cover accommodation, food etc. plus travel expenses.
The employers house these workers in cheap accommodations, saving at least 50% and usually drive them over in coaches or vans, again saving on individual travel costs.
No British worker would accept living in these conditions, nor should they, but these immigrant workers are so desperate for the work that they accept this.
Typically, from my own personal experience working on construction sites, immigrant workers will also accept a lower standard of safety at work. I have seen them traveling around site in the backs of vans, no seats, laden with tools and construction materials etc., in flagrant breach of health and safety regulations.”

While UK laborers bark about equal opportunity and contract fairness (and perhaps spew some racist vitriol in the process) there is the greater undercurrent of geo-economic exploitation here bobbing spaces of injustice on the surface. Particularly eerie to me in this picture is the spatial intermixing of incarceration and migrant labor, and how architecturally speaking the surplus of global capital's industrial bodies are rounded up at sea inside the old remains of an overcrowded penal system, once oceanic jails now filled with a new kind of transient inmate, a new kind of quasi-prison labor force.
Is it the prison industrial-complex and the floating populations of globalization's labor excess passing the baton in some sort of spatial relay? -- the recycling of old prison architecture for the expansion of labor marketplace exploitation?
If anything, the barges give these corporations the flexibility now to scoop up hundreds or even thousands of desperate workers like these stranded in an Italian warehouse, and provide a bare bones option for shipping and housing them to and from construction sites all over -- like the cargo industry of human labor.

[Image: Warehouse a home for Italy's migrants, BBC.]

They're floating labor camps, seabound slums, theoretically tolerable migrant housing “converted” out of old prison barges.
But, one can only wonder, what “converted” actually means here, and what defines "tolerable." By the sounds of it, perhaps a few locks have been taken off the doors, a few bars removed from the cabin (cell) windows, but essentially, from what I can tell, the rest is what you might still imagine.
All of which naturally conjures wretched images of slave ships from the colonial era swarming the coasts of the frontier, and begs some very basic questions here: what are the regulations around reusing or “converting” prison barges into suitable housing? What are the health standards that apply to such floating migrant camps? What constitutes appropriate compensation for their work? Are they protected by any certain safety guarantees? Is there any political agency to act on their behalf? How are these labor barges governed internationally if they operate as a sea-based entity, perhaps domiciled outside the boundaries of formal juridical sovereignty? I mean, I don't know. What is the oversight for this type of practice, if any?
Is this the abhorrent future of global labor? Or, more accurately, is this the abhorrent contemporary? Global contracting firms profitting off the benefits of indefinite prison barge leases, sailing to wherever there is a demand to undercut the subcontracting labor markets with cheap resource that technically belongs to no country but rather now to a multinational company, where international law is perhaps somehow circumvented by floatillas of sublegal worker camps perpetually cruising beyond the horizons of legal scrutiny?
Of course, I am utterly unschooled on labor law, so, you'll have to bare with my ignorance – maybe there is an apparatus of protection that applies to these workers once they set foot on shore, but if the nomadic fortress ever decided to overtly get into the business of supplying migrant labor coupled with its venture in refugee interdiction and naval deportation, then obviously the ground work has already been firmly laid.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Snake Tunnels in Taliban Territory

[Image: Traveling Into Taliban Territory, 60 Minutes, 2009.]

Recently, Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes took a tour of Taliban Territory on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan and, among his stops, was led to Bajaur, “a tribal agency adjacent to Afghanistan's violent Kunar Province,” we are told, “and the site of a brutal fight between the Pakistani military and the Taliban last fall.”
There, Kroft was escorted to a captured Taliban compound ten miles from the Afghan border where he got to dip his toes into a “maze of tunnels” the militants had dug out over the course of several years, that he is told are connected by at least a mile (if I heard the video correctly).

[Image: Traveling Into Taliban Territory, 60 Minutes, 2009.]

Quoting producer Draggan Mihailovich from the online version of the piece, “Stepping down into the first tunnel, it quickly became apparent the Taliban fighters didn’t suffer from claustrophobia. The entrance was snug. But the outlets which led to other rooms, bunkers and compounds under the ground looked like they had been built for snakes. The Taliban had to crawl on their stomachs for hundreds of meters to reach these rooms and bunkers.”
Kroft produced a short video viewable here.

But, unfortunately as you can see he obviously didn’t sink down too far into his underworld adventure, and so the footage really only shows the first few steps that lead toward another mouth, which supposedly connects an entire complex of passages beneath the compound. Though, if belly crawling is required, I guess we can cut old Kroft some slack.
It’s hardly a startling find – I am just surprised we haven’t gotten to see inside more of them as time’s gone on. My favorite line in the piece: (Kroft): "Are you sure it's safe to go in here?" ... (Pakistani commander): "Yeah sure, why not?"
With that, I’m reminded of a good post Geoff put together over two years ago now, surveying the geological history of Afghanistan (one of the most mountainous countries in the world), which has to some degree – alongside the climates and engineering feats that have whittled the nation’s past – given way to an entire legacy of natural caves and excavations, irrigation networks, secret tunnels and bunkers, ancient hollowed forts and compounds, and plenty of other staggered burrows and buried hideouts that have served everyone over the years from Afghan’s own people during the days of Atilla the Hun to Osama bin Laden and his marvelously elusive cronies, to a range of arid high-altitude farmers, herders, regional traders, nomadic mystics and expelled refugees, all the way to good old John Walker Lindh (remember the “American Taliban”?...according to this report he “took cover in an underground tunnel” with the Taliban in Mazar-I-Sharif, and “stayed there for 10 days, despite no food and repeated attempts to force them out. Coalition troops started fires in the tunnel and even tried gas, but to no avail. They finally rooted the extremists out by forcing water down the hole and filling it up.”).
Certainly, we won’t fail to mention the many other key players who have taken refuge in the chunky outback of this region in more recent history, from the Soviet Union to the CIA, the mujahideen, the Afghan Northern Alliance, innumerable tribal warlords and common folk, the U.S. military, and last but not least, the Taliban itself (who, even when detained dug an incredible escape tunnel in order to break out of a Kandahar prison back in 2003)….whomever else one can only speculate –
[Oh, wait, there is one other – in recent news apparently a Chinese engineer who had been captured by the Taliban and held captive for many months in an underground chamber, has just recently been released. As it turned out, since the Taliban didn’t want to keep exposing him to the outdoor surface area while taking him to the bathroom, they apparently dug a tunnel for him that led straight from his chamber to the bathroom to avoid the risk of his being able to see his surroundings and plan an escape. Yet, being the tunnelers the Taliban are, I am surprised they gave him even the idea of a tunnel.]

[Image: The Hunt for bin Laden - Tora Bora | The Guardian.]

Nevertheless, as a military fossil, Afghanistan is an epic imprint of human history’s ongoing engagement with the densest contours of the terrestrial, where ancient culture has been embedded in the geologic timescales of conflict space for centuries. The country’s story could probably be entirely retold in the evolutionary compressions and picture carvings of its vast mineral deposits alone. If Afghanistan were a book, its pages would be composed of ancient lithic space, there would be chapters on mythological caves, karezi canals and the more egregious military archeology of centuries worth of warfare. Dust-bound stories captured in the petrified pages of Asian history, cultural memories scrawled in open a closed fissures; a complete archive of Afghanistan’s struggles with itself and its neighbors stacked upon one another in alternating layers of sediment violence and mineralized calm.
Despite’s Afghanistan’s unfathomable weight in rock and stone one can only be as intrigued by the kind of aerated voidspace dimensions that harbor within it; for all that is topographically observable in the rugged mountain ranges on the surface that give Afghanistan a look of disgruntled geographic muscularity, there is behind it all the skeletal chasm-works of an immeasurable hollowscape that is irresistibly mysterious, and has also lent a kind of cultural imaginary to Afghanistan as this far off haven of sorts for those to escape the imperial reach of the U.S.’ military strong arm.
Opinions abound, but has Afghanistan come to represent the final frontier for empire – the endgame? Is it that resilient edge space where landscape is yet again the greatest enemy to the world’s single military superpower? Where empire’s chief nemesis apparently drops off the face of the planet and disappears without a trace?
After the American Air Force bombed (nuked) the you-know-what out of the Tora Bora mountains following 9/11 where bin Laden was allegedly hiding deep in the intestinal fortitude of Afghanistan’s geological bunkerlandia, where my friend’s mother who lived in Iran at the time claimed to be able to hear and even feel the earth pounding from miles and miles and away; and where a string of earthquakes were not only triggered inside the mountains but were set off by the bombing and reported to have been felt as far away as India, the Tora Bora mountains became a crude geographic symbol for a kind of insurmountable extremist resistance (the military might of the Soviet Union was defeated there, so why wouldn’t the U.S.?).
Somehow, not only did bin Laden escape, but even after the U.S. waged its most relentless multi-ton bunker-busting bombing campaign capable that decapitated entire mountain tops, the tunnels and complex cave networks seemed to have stood to a very large extent in tact. Which, as Geoff’s piece points out, is a testament to the incredible geological formations that have encrusted the surface there over thousands of years with some of the most solid and indestructible rock found on the planet – in some sense the ideal landscape for surviving nuclear attack.
But, to quote Sobhi al-Zobaidi:

“Beyond the geographical designation for a location in the White Mountains in Eastern Afghanistan, the term Tora Bora has become synonymous with some sort of a spatial maze, a web of underground tunnels where someone (like Osama bin Laden) can hide and disappear. In the media as well as in public imagination, Tora Bora has come to mean a new kind of territory, interior territory that cannot be mapped or fully revealed or exposed and whose elusiveness gives rise to ever more fantastical imaginings.”

In other words, Tora Bora, (but perhaps Afghanistan more generally speaking now) has become a kind of mythical vortex for U.S. evasion; a geological black hole that only the local militias know how to navigate, that provides the empire’s most wanted with limitless and unknowable realms of bomb proof sanctuary.
Especially now, as the prospects for American conquest in Afghanistan look less and less certain, the region is beginning to look like the ultimate counter-empire landscape – a combination of geology, ancient engineering, indigenous knowledge of the landscape, and corresponding ad-hoc war tactic that seems to make for the perfect strategy to defeat foreign occupation. In fact, how many times do we need to see similar examples of subterranean resistance work? Much like Israel’s recent bombing campaign of Gaza failed to destroy the intense tunnel network along Egypt’s border, is underground Afghanistan the final frontier in the U.S.’s “War on Terror”?

[Image: A mountain tunnel in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, via Afghan tunnels prove tough to crack2007.]

I was reading an article about a group of American soldiers who were combing the Afghanistan countryside to clear tunnel and cave networks, when they come upon this one series of caves that the locals had told them repeatedly was only used to store hay and had nothing to do with the Taliban. The soldiers refused to accept this and set up blocks of C4 and grenades along the cave mouth in attempt to cave it in and make the tunnel inaccessible. Of course, their detonations miserably failed and all they were left with were plumes of dust and the explosive stench of military futility. In the words of the commanding officer at the time, “It’s moments like this that you have to laugh,” [he] said. “We gave it everything we had and didn’t make a dent. Now we have to go back and tell the villagers, ‘OK, you can have your cave back.’”
There is something so simply revealing in this story to me; not only is there a lesson of ignorance and embarrassing defeat, but it’s the tunnel that will last, it’s the tunnel that always has, it’s the tunnel that will continue despite any sort of military operation brought against it, because the tunnel in this case is nature itself – like many tunnels which are a natural response to superpower, to border siege, or violent colonization. It is, despite its earthen barriers, pure liquid, running and doglegging in any direction it needs to, seeping as low as it must, around anything in its path, to find oxygen on the other side, to push its flows of wind and water, or economy and migration where the gravities of geological or geopolitical pull will deliver it.
We see it over an over again, the tunnel as the perpetual thorn in military superpower’s side. It crops up where empire is not looking, and then even in the face of overwhelming authority it pushes through and succeeds still undetected well below the technological prowess of the state. Over and over again we see it is the tunnel that manages to survive. And that alone – that a single spatial form could persist even in today’s military climate – is just unbelievably fascinating to me.
I’ll be picking up more on this in the future, the underground resiliency of places from Gaza to Nogales, Kowloon to Baghdad, Lebanon, Canada, just to name a few; the tunnel as the raw liquid-space of superpower’s subversion, globalization’s Achilles heal, this perennial undoing of the colonial landscape, etc.

Related Readings:
Inside the Tora Bora Caves By Matthew Forney Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2001 | TIME
A NATION CHALLENGED: CAVES AND TUNNELS; Heavily Fortified 'Ant Farms' Deter bin Laden's Pursuers By MICHAEL WINES, November 26, 2001 | New York Times
A NATION CHALLENGED: GEOLOGY; Nature Made The Perfect Hiding Place By KENNETH CHANG, November 26, 2001 | New York Times
Escape from Tora Bora, 4 September 2002 | Guardian
The Hunt for bin Laden - Tora Bora | The Guardian

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Asia's Underground Railroad

[Image: Barbed wire marks the high-security zone where the frontiers of Russia, China, and North Korea meet at the Tumen River. This river is where most North Koreans sneak into South Korea during the summer, when the river is shallow enough to wade, or in winter, when it's possible to walk across the ice. National Geographic (Text: Tom O'Neill, Photographs: Chien-Chi Chang), Feb. 2009.]

A great feature in this month's National Geographic on the Asian underground railroad that refugees from North Korea continue to use at great risk to reach Thailand, where they have the best chance of finding a new livelihood since, unlike many of the region's nations, Thailand does not practice a policy of returning North Korean "illegal immigrants" back to their homeland.
Back in the nineties when North Korea was plagued by famine the migration route mostly passed though Southern China, but the Chinese have since increased border controls there, which have relocated paths through Mongolia. However, it wasn't long before the Mongolians established their own security barriers and pushed migrants further out into the hard traveled Gobi desert. Eventually, the exodus geographies began to extend into Mynammar, but the dangerous militarized zones there have highly discouraged this option from becoming too well tread. After getting through China, Vietnam used to be an option, but in 2004 the government dramatically clamped down on the informal border crossings there and send refugees back to Korea.
Today, the most commonly used escape route has been diverted through South Korea, China, over the mountain ranges of Loas, and then into Thailand. I have come across some good coverage recently, but will leave you to read through the articles on your own. I will just drop this quote from the National Geographic piece for now as a point of departure:

Some 50,000 North Koreans, and possibly many more, are hiding in China, most in cities and villages along the remote 900-mile-long border between the two countries. Uncounted others have come for a few months and then slipped back to North Korea with food and money. Yet many stay on, unable or unwilling to return to their cruel homeland. They are left with two desperate choices: Keep hiding—often as prisoners of exploitative employers—or embark on the Asian underground railroad, a perilous journey by foot, vehicle, and train across China and Southeast Asia. Confronted with an obstacle course of checkpoints, informants, and treacherous terrain, numerous defec­tors have been caught. But aided by a small band of humanitarians and by smugglers charging $3,000 and up, some 15,000 have reached safe haven, most often in South Korea. There, traumatized and barely skilled, they face the most formidable challenge of all: starting over.

Further reading:

North Korea's underground railroad to Thailand
Get my drift, Dear Nation?
An 'underground railway' rolling to freedom or death Missionaries play dual role in lives of Korean refugees

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Military Suburbanism: How to Plan for Pure War

[Image: Tom Vigar, "Subtpoian Dreams" / Project Text.]

A few weeks ago our compadres at InfraNet Lab posted a brief to a conceptual project that they say envisions “The military-industrial complex and the suburban-industrial complex unified in marital bliss.” Upon first glace, I actually misread marital for martial, and in this case I’m not entirely sure that makes too much difference. Nevertheless, it sounded abysmally frightening. Yet, as it turns out, it's quite comedic.
The two (suburbia and militarism) have long shared an intimate relationship, as Tom Vigar, from Scheffield University, reminds us in his project Subtopian Dreams – a sardonic proposal that renews the spatial vows of suburbia and militarism together to reconstitute the war machine’s optimal baseworld landscape, one that would take advantage of their pre-existing interdependence and, as InfraNet puts it," share the same territory in a cyclical symbiosis."

[Image: Tom Vigar, "Subtpoian Dreams" / Project Text.]

Reading through an extract Vigar provided for the curious minds over at CTLab, one gets the feeling he has fancied numerous times an exquisite bombing campaign over the American suburban landscape (who hasn’t? … and, lets’ face it – the burbs just seem so blissfully ignorant in their insular world that sometimes it’s tough not to think that maybe only bombs could save the terminally vapid from themselves). Yet, perhaps responding to a knee-jerk fantasy of completely leveling America’s swaths of pretentious oasis, he has decided instead to err on the side of sarcasm by proposing a suburban model that is both honest in reckoning with its relations to the war machine, while perhaps taking pity by giving it some good old-fashioned defensive posture.
His plan is to relayer the industrial archeology of suburbia with more direct military underpinnings in order to seize upon the economic and infrastructural elements that are already at work there – bringing together manufacturing, consumerism and the military itself under a single roof in order to fully realize suburbia as an ideal engine for the space production of war’s preparatory landscape.

[Image: Tom Vigar, "Subtpoian Dreams" / Project Text.]

Riffing off of Virilio’s notion that the annihilatory realities of military superpower and evolutionary warfare have rendered a war that “is no longer in its execution” but rather in constant “preparation,” –- or, a state of perpetual war (“Pure War”) – Vigar writes:

The question for any powerful country should thus no longer be how we can actively [and geographically] neutralise a potential threat, since it can come from anywhere and is often aspatial. The question should be how we can engineer a situation whereby it would be unacceptable for enemies to attack us and would result in immediate and prodigious counter attack. In other words: How can we maintain the Total War infrastructure during times of Peace?

The idea of maintaining an apparatus for constant war during times of peace is obviously an oxymoron – can peace ever be truly achieved if the ability to wage war is always churning and perfecting itself in the background? Is it a self-defeating task to try and simultaneously wage peace but ultimately prepare for war at the same time? How can geopolitics settle on cooperation when the larger economy itself is founded on the consumption of military products? It's the central irony of our times. Regardless, the answer in fact is that the ‘total war’ infrastructure is already firmly in place; it's been rooted in suburbia perhaps ever since its earliest origins outside post-industrial London when a new moneyed class sought to disentangle itself from the wretched intermixing of the classes and compressed laborspheres in the city. With their retreat they generated a lifestyle and suburban pattern that has as time's gone on, Tom suggests, placed the suburbanite at war with everything around himself from his neighbors to nature to terrorism alike. Quoting him further:

The chemicals we spray on our lawns, the vast array of wipes, gadgets, brushes and engines we buy help keep the manufacturers at a state of readiness for war unsurpassed in history. The real beauty of this system is that the suburbanites, for the most part, are blissfully unaware of its existence. Suburbia is a political armchair, complete with electric massager and six can beer fridge, placed squarely in front of a 42-inch plasma flat screen TV. Suburban Living with all its intentions of escaping the chaotic nature of the city is actually facilitating a state of warfare through its remorseless consumption and political detachment. In turn this Pure War accelerates the fragmented nature of the city: One could easily argue that many terrorist attacks are a result of it.

There are, of course, other deep reciprocal bindings between militarism and suburbia. In Mark Gillem’s book America Town: Building the Outposts of Empire, we are made dutifully clear on how suburbia more directly territorializes foreign soil, not only in the banal spatial patterns of the suburban identity that is routinely exported to other countries seeking to create an America-town on their own turf, but in the ways the suburban model is egregiously incorporated into the planning and design of U.S. military bases abroad, which brings an uncanny sense of familiarity to the soldiers there, so that not only do they feel they are fighting for home but they are fighting more directly from home.

[Image: Tom Vigar, "Subtpoian Dreams" / Project Text.]

The suburban design of foreign military bases brings a little slice of the homefront to the frontier – a frontier that is today more akin perhaps to a series of islands and amorphous geographic connections rather than the Westphalian linearity of militarization along the edges of the nation state. The frontier today is not a border so much as an archipelago of occupied zones.
Thomas Barnett in a recent interview about his latest book Great Powers: America and the World After Bush says what we are experiencing globally today through geopolitical conflict is a greater integration of the frontier; globalization, he says, is like the American push westward during the 19th century.
However, I tend to agree with John Robb’s assessment that the frontier analogy suggests a tier system through which the rule-sets of the colonizers and ruling elite are disseminated and negotiated across the plains, and today the rules of colonial ordering from the top appear to be in a state of dissolution while enforcing a more widespread subset below. So, as globalization expands its system to wider global markets the logic at the core of this system begins to thin and lose integrity. Though, what the hell do I know, I certainly admit, I'm a bit out of my league in that conversation.


[Image: Tom Vigar, "Subtpoian Dreams" / Project Text.]

But I wonder, if suburbia, gated communities and military bases are the outposts of empire, then what does this loss of executive integrity mean for the politics of the field office, so to speak, and the system that it spreads?
Gillem draws plenty of parallels between the suburban models at home and the planning of military bases abroad, the disintegration of their social values (or, rather the prefabrication of social value), and the policies of fear which stoke their greater low density planning and sprawling design. All this feeds a need for further excessive land use, closer partnerships between the infrastructures and economies of suburban manufacturing and the military machine, which only helps to swell American ethnocentrism through a strategic sense of architectural and cultural familiarity. And where there is familiarity on one side, there is unfamiliarity on the other, and so the ultimate product of suburbia may not be just its self-projection but a projection of what it is not.
The American suburb and the foreign military base are both places that “bring together diaspora communities searching for spatial familiarity,” Gillem writes. “The buildings and neighborhoods both expose and obscure economic, political, and social priorities.” The perfect conditions for Vigar’s proposal since it capitalizes on the sheer aloofness of suburbia itself.

[Image: Tom Vigar, "Subtpoian Dreams" / Project Text.]

Suburbia posing for the military base gives both places a sense of entitlement and triumph, not to mention cultural superiority through spatial affinity; so the typical suburban resident feels the same sensations as the soldier the other side of the world walking through their respective neighborhoods, and vice versa – they both march to a sense that their space is the ideal space and from there it should be expanded, and anything beyond that on the other side is not only different but spatially confused and culturally incomparable. This is the fear in familiarity, the dangers of home.
What are suburbs anyway but space in uniform? In fact, when one reads Gillem’s book it conceptually becomes a bit confusing to consider which actually came first, the foreign base or the suburb? Of course they each have their respective lineages, but at what point did foreign military bases begin to take on -- in a dramatic spatial sense – the near perfect image of their homeland? I’m no military historian, or a suburban scholar for that matter, but in their contemporary forms there is little separation today in their planning and development, not to mention in the social political distortions that idealize them similarly.

[Image: Tom Vigar, "Subtpoian Dreams" / Project Text.]

Anyway, I’m rambling, but the military base abroad is nothing but an extension of suburbia and its economic interests at home, with onsite Starbucks’, Burger Kings, shopping centers, the low density model and rambling exclaves of consumption, split-level ranch homes, big box stores, and auto-dependent infrastructure, as Gillem’s book so eloquently traces. The industries that are largely invested in suburbia are heavily profiting off of the military base overseas, while suburbia is in turn the direct beneificiary of military excess and its technological transfer. In Vigar's own words:

There are many products that are a result of research and mobilisation for war; these range from the microwave to Tupperware. Nerve agents are no exception to this; research surrounding them has lead to the development of a whole host of new fertilizers and pesticides that are subsequently marketed to us as “must haves”: We need a perfect lawn in Suburbia because if we don’t have it we are somehow being a bad citizen. To maintain readiness for war companies have been forced to find uses for their products, often creating things that we don’t need, yet through advertising desire.

There is little distinguishing the two anymore from a corporate or military point of view. Vigar's project laughingly says, why not take this hideous ambiguity to a perfect sublime?


[Image: Tom Vigar, "Subtpoian Dreams" / Project Text.]

Pointing to Ulrich Beck’s concept of “place polygamy” – Gillem writes, “while at their homes overseas, they are paradoxically separated from but tied to their home in America.” Sort of the opposite of an imaginary geography, I suppose, but rather torn in between two places at once that are in experience identical. If one travels but exists in an undifferentiated sense of experience at the same time, is one really traveling? Creepy. It’s like another form of detention. We often don’t think about the spatial models that house soldiers and how they are in many ways trapped in their own brand of detainment -- like militarized reservations. Suburbia.
Anyway, it’s classic spatial conditioning stuff, but nowhere is the American suburb more influential than in the confines of the foreign US military base. Suburbia is in this regard simply a military spatial product. If this is the case abroad, then it’s hard not to consider what the implication may be for the same model at home, no?
Which gets us back to Tom Vigar’s project.

This project polemically proposes an inevitable, yet absurd, conclusion to the state of Pure Warfare that modernity has created. It postulates that Suburbia will eventually become the icing on a cake of industry and warfare. Not only will the products consumed by the suburbanite help indirectly support the war effort but the very suburb itself will become a shroud for the modern war machine. I propose the vertical stacking of the three separate plates of Suburbia, Industry and Warfare in an attempt to fully bring geography to its knees and make the already existing system far more efficient. The reconfiguration of these plates may appear to some to be a bizarre manoeuvre yet it brings forth multiple benefits:

He then lays these out: creating a more conservative manufacturng footprint, improving recycling industries, achieving more precise targeted marketing to increase residential consumption, hybernating bunkers, and even utilizing the aloofness of suburbia as a perfect human shield!
It’s a bizarre mix of design sensibility and brilliant farcedom. I love it!
As funny as his proposal for optimizing the suburban model as an imperial piston for the military machine may be, I’m not sure the war machine can be made to be more responsible or that it can be retooled to be more ecologically conscious, or rehabilitated in any way. That would go against its logic which depends on a constant reproduction of almost everything (including the “enemy”) and therefore waste, excessive consumption -- rampant expansions of power in all spheres. To cut back in any way would seem from the military/suburbia industrial-complex’s perspective a failure and a sign of its weakened state, its encroaching defeat, its terrestrial impotence. Which is of course why Vigar has moved the troops to the suburbs in the first place.

[Image: Tom Vigar, "Subtpoian Dreams" / Project Text.]

If Vigar’s new military suburbanism utilizes suburbia as a massive human shield (which is a conceptual crack-up, by the way), then I wonder if the goal isn’t to secretly provoke war – because, since when did the “terrorists” spare the lives of their enemy’s human shields? Aren't these human shields the precise targets of terrorists themselves? Which begs another question: while his model might work in theory of Pure War, is it suited for the new dynamics of this “Global War on Terror” which ignores, or has rewritten to some extent, the classic target, the classic rules and engagements of war?

With the exception of the War plate each will have no idea of the existence of the others yet will be dependant upon them. The war plate will penetrate the other two in secrecy, ready to reveal its true nature at a computer calculated press of a big red button.

I envisage hundreds of these perfect suburban conglomerates scattered around the globe, each appears identical to the rest yet houses a slightly different War Plate. On the surface each condition of suburbia will deceitfully offer protection from terrorism, your neighbours, youths and pedophiles [depending on the current political climate] by systematically designing out the chances of their occurrence at the expense of public space and individual freedom.

The project is hilarious, and it makes me feel it is more subversively designed to get the military into war rather than merely keep it prepared in perfect blissful idleness. The best part is that it actually clarifies a lot of what are more accurate and truthful underpinnings of suburbia already, and how America-town has come to spread more alarmingly not only around the globe in the form of foreign military bases, but in the domestic military urbanism of lesser known towns and cities through out America as well.

[Image: Tom Vigar, "Subtpoian Dreams" / Project Text.]

In her book Homefront: A Military City and the American Twentieth Century Catherine Lutz chronicles the militarization of Fayetteville in North Carolina, where the U.S. Army’s Fort Brag essentially garrisoned the entire community for the purposes of training, economizing, and expanding its base of operations ramping up for the “War on Terror.” She leads into her research with this quote which seems salient here:

“Much of the history and contemporary reality of war and war preparation has been invisible, though to people both inside and outside the military—because it has been shrouded behind simplified or propoganda, cordoned off by secrecy laws, or been difficult to asses because so many of the consequences of running our military institutions are not obviously war-related. And so we have not evaluated the costs of being a country ever ready for battle. The international costs are even more invisible, as Americans have looked away from the face of Empire and been taught to think of war with a distancing focus on its ostensible purpose—“freedom assured” or “aggressors deterred”—rather than the melted, exploded, raped, and lacerated bodies and destroyed social worlds at its center. And we have been taught to imagine the costs of war as exacted only on the battlefield and the bodies of soldiers, even as veteran’s injuries and experiences get scant attention, and even as civilians are now the vast proportion of war’s clotted red harvest.”

As suburbia and the military base become inextricably one and the same in the end what Vigar has laid out may be neither suburb or base, but some ambiguous bit of seamless landscape graft that is already sufficing as both, but taken now to its logical and fiendishly absurd extreme. A base that uses suburbia for cover, a suburb that is really a base, either way they're everywhere now.

Check it out: Tom Vigar, "Subtpoian Dreams" / Project Text

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Peripheral Milit_Urb 28

[Image: "Cars buried under rubble at the site of the ministry buildings compound. Israeli aircraft bombed a government compound, buildings linked to the Islamic University and the home of a top Hamas commander." / Photo: Abid Katib/Getty Images via NYT.]


A military solution to a war on terrorism is doomed | SF Chronicle // The Internal and External Dimensions of the War on Terror | Persian Journal // David Miliband: 'War on terror' was wrong | The Guardian // Heart of U.S. Occupation Reverts to Iraqi Control | // Federal Report Finds $100B Failure in US Reconstruction of Iraq | Democracy Now! // Iraq, Afghan Auditors Discuss Rebuilding From Wars | NYTimes

Iraq prison riot leaves 13 dead | Los Angeles Times // In Baghdad, a Trip to Nowhere // Iraq evicts | Squatter City // Baghdad Combats Street Beggars | Planetizen // JFQ Focuses on Land Warfare | Armchair Generalist

Blackwater: Leaving Iraq, Chasing Pirates?, Building a “parallel infrastructure to our national security apparatus”? Jeremy Scahill discusses the legacy and future of Blackwater Worldwide, including its expansion into hot new markets: Chasing Somalian pirates, and total intelligence gathering.

Blackwater's New Business: Training Pro Athletes | Danger Room // Iraq's Shocking Human Toll: About 1 Million Killed, 4.5 Million Displaced, 1-2 Million Widows, 5 Million Orphans | AlterNet // Falluja’s Strange Visitor - A Western Tourist | NYTimes // CNN’s Prisoner of War | Men’s Journal // Australian family caged, detained, starved and deported by US customs | Boing Boing // Second Riot in 2 Months at GEO's Reeves County Detention Center Leaves Injuries, Significant Damage // Pecos prison dreams up in smoke

War games | Jerusalem Post // Cyber army base attracts recruits | BBC

Israeli settlements on occupied territory are seen as illegal by the rest of the world. But now an Israeli human rights group is saying that even under Israeli law, one of the most significant and well-established settlements is unlawful.Major Israeli settlement 'unlawful' | BBC // Secret Israeli database reveals full extent of illegal settlement | Haaretz // Mapping Israeli Settlements on the West Bank // Life in the border zones | International Solidarity Movement // Gary Fields, "Ex-Communicated: Enclosure Landscapes in Palestine" // Who will rebuild Gaza? | BBC // With remnants of war, the wreck of a Gaza hospital turns into a gallery | Chicago Tribune

[Image: Holding on to Afghan control? "American soldiers held on to boxes and shielded themselves from the prop wash as a helicopter landed at Observation Post Mace in eastern Afghanistan's remote Nuristan Province." / Photo: Bob Strong/Reuters via NYT.]

'Viagra lure' for Afghan warlords | BBC // Ann Jones, The Afghan Reconstruction Boondoggle | Tomgram // New Troop Deployments to Afghanistan Will Only Feed Insurgency, Says Report | MotherJones // The Empire v. The Graveyard | Tomgram // All Your Base Are Belong to Uzbekistan | Danger Room // Air Base Loss Could Hobble Afghan War Effort | Danger Room // With attacks on Afghan supply lines in Pakistan, US turns to Uzbekistan | CSMonitor // U.S. Plans $200 Million Expansion for Kabul Embassy // …Actually, on second thought, Cancel that.

Chalmers Johnson, Economic Death Spiral at the Pentagon | Tomgram // The Frontier Analogy | Global Guerrillas // ANTIDOTE: Great Powers | Global Guerrillas // CTLab Virtual Symposia – Cities and the Scientific Way of Warfare // CTLab: Spatial Forces Index

Stimulus Planning for Interrogators

[Image: Islamabad Marriott reopens three months after truck bombing | Los Angeles Times.]

Fortress Urb

Obama's 'Beast' of a car revealed | BBC // New tape to protect buildings from explosions // NYPD Wants to Jam Cell Phones During Terror Attack | Danger Room // The Social In Security | Planetizen // Islamabad Marriott reopens three months after truck bombing | Los Angeles Times // Jonathan Glancey on the new US embassy in Iraq | The Guardian // The Bush Zone | Archinect // Another Artist arrested under Anti-Terrorism laws | FAD // Los Angeles - Photogs Fight Back | LA Weekly // 'Securing the City - Inside America’s Best Counterterror Force — the NYPD,' by Christopher Dickey | Book Review, NYTimes

[Image: Doomsday Weapons: a Photo Restrospective | Danger Room.]

Inside the Danger Room

Stopping Trucks the Superhero Way // How to Win a 'Fifth-Generation' War // How Tech Changes Our Thinking About War // Doomsday Weapons: a Photo Restrospective // Google Maps Now Shows VP's Crib // Going Solar in Baghdad // NATO Wants Sim Afghanistan to Test War Plans // Robot Planes, Life-and-Death Choices Over Gaza

[Image: Undetectable Surveillance Window Patent Awarded, Wired.]


House of Lords: rise of CCTV is threat to freedom | The Guardian // 'We must protect privacy from over-zealous state' | The Guardian // Surveillance is 'inescapable' part of life in Britain | The Guardian // How do we move beyond ‘I’m being watched’? | MUTE // Private firm may track all email and calls | The Guardian // We Live in Public Tracks Net Spycam Madness | The Underwire // The Office of Community Sousveillance | we make money not art // Tactical Training, Real & Virtual Prison Management | Prison Photography // House Approves Un-Watchlist of People Who Aren't Terrorists | Threat Level // Peter Campbell: The Lens of War | New Left Review

[Image: Jean Gaumy Mass in the chapel. The prisoners are isolated in individual compartments. Caen. Maison d'arrêt. 1976 Via Jean Gaumy: Les Incarcérés | Prison Photography]


Rural Texas town permits shooting of feral dogs // Zimbabwe’s war of disappearance | open Democracy // Ex-Prostitutes Say South Korea and U.S. Enabled Sex Trade Near Bases | NYTimes

A look inside Fidel Castro's mountain hideout Reliving Cuba's revolution | BBC // LTTE Chief Prabhakaran lived in the lap of luxury | Times of India // Abandoned Prime Minister's mansion in Beirut -- infiltration photos | Boing Boing // Untouched East Germany flat found | BBC // Abroad - The Bergen-Belsen Memorial Museum Views the Holocaust Not From Then but From the Here and Now | NYTimes // Audio-slideshow: Auschwitz in decay | BBC

Burger King Serves Up Cultural Imperialism with "Whopper Virgins" | Infoshop // Business Is Booming for Industry Catering to Survivalists | AlterNet

Networked_Performance — China Channel … browse behind the Wall // China's astroturf army | Boing Boing

State collapse is hard to measure / Fixing a broken world | The Economist // Failed State Index 2008 | Beyond the Beyond
Where cars go to wait | Space & Culture

Fairy Tales of the Atomic Age | Orion Magazine // Moors built with powdered bones | Archinect // An Afghan Secret Revealed Brings End of an Era | NYTimes

Fortifications Tour | BLDGBLOG // Military Natures | Temporary Travel Office // Tarim Desert Highway; The Artificial Hills of Berlin (and Guangdong)| Pruned // Invasive Species | Bouphonia // Ant Farm Media Van v.08 (Time Capsule) | Life Without Buildings Interviews Ant Farm // Alexander Kluge: Brutality in Stone | elseplace // The Legibility of Destruction | a456

[Earlier peripherals ... 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27]

Monday, February 09, 2009

Inside Long Beach's New Panoptic Nerve Center

The BBC got a sneak peak inside a new surveillance command center at the Long Beach Port in California, one of the busiest ports (and for awhile, most vulnerable) in the world along side LA’s, which combined are responsible for 45 percent of the U.S.’s cargo container traffic.
"The center," this article tells us, "sits on a narrow strip of land within the harbor, controls an assortment of cameras, motion sensors, and security teams that monitor the port's 3,200 acres. and acts as a fusion center for hundreds of local, state, and federal agents."
As you’d expect, inside this hive of spectral vigilance is essentially a massive grid-display of strategic camera views laid out across a big screen streaming angular scenes of filmic bore from corners all around the port, near highways, access roads, over buildings, and inside the port’s facilities where new facial recognition software is being tested. "Some of the port's 115 cameras are so powerful, operators can read the badge number of someone standing two miles away," said Cosmo Perrone, the port's director of security.
It’s a kind of enlarged retinal scan of the entire Port district at which the center sits this $21m cubicle space of endless watching.

One thing strikes me – for a panoptic nerve center it just seems so innocuously standard in terms of its space of operation. Sure, it’s incredibly high-tech, but for all intents and purposes it looks like any old room hidden somewhere in a basement filled with PCs and oversized monitors, a few Aeron chairs, some air-con vents and overactive coffee makers.
It cracks me up how incredibly uninteresting this place looks. I guess I’m too easily seduced by more curious fantasies of what these types of security spaces are supposed to look like (perhaps it should look like something at least vaguely futuristic, that might give even the remotest bit of reality to Hollywood’s sci-fi depictions of the Pentagon’s hyper-informatic spy rooms), but no –
See for yourself – this ‘surveillance command center’ is just so disappointingly mundane and generic it could be any old innocuous business hoping to survive on a month-to-month lease somewhere cheap; a corporate squat: a private executive screening room; a pirate media station secretly running from inside a forgotten storage facility locked up long ago within an Oracle data center.

When I think of 'national security command centers' I can’t help but get a little giddy if just to glimpse for a moment something normally considered un-glimpsable, something with incomprehensible interface, the sight of a new disturbing geospatial surveillance paradigm. Imagine peeking into a chamber of the Emperor’s Death Star. Anytime I come across a video like this I must confess there is a creepy thrill at the prospect of getting to look inside something frighteningly Big Brother in the most architectural sense. What exists on the other side of that great panoptic tinted glass?
In reality, behind the curtain is just the opposite – an utterly anti-climatic phenomenology of American office space.
I mean, come on, that’s it? That’s the space that oversees one of the world’s most active port security systems? Granted, the video only provides a clip, but – wow.

Even in terms of work environments, would you ever want to work there, behind those little desks, under that predictable overhead lighting? No offense to the designers, but – man, from that view, the space doesn’t do a Panoptic Nerve Center any mythological justice, that’s for sure. Oh well. It’s no secret I’ve seen all the Bond movies way too many times by now.
Near the end of the video we get to see the massive room-filling hard drive padded on earthquake dampeners that keeps the whole thing safe and running – one of several brain boxes powering LA’s scopic regime where each day it logs reams and reams of probably the most boring action thriller footage ever recorded in LA.
But I guess there’s just something perfect in that – behind the pantopic curtains of global surveillance is just this monstrous computing box hovering in the palm of some boring-ass Los Angeles office space. Despite all the secrecy around national security command centers, in the end – it’s just a PC and monitor running intelligent software, and in some ways producing the perfect counter-films to Hollywood’s billion dollar blockbusters.
Here, a single box controls hundreds of remote cameras simultaneously whose objective is everything classic film production is not: to make a film focusing on all the extras, to waste as much film as possible, record the set from every angle, and capture the mis en scene of an action film so as to render no action at all!
It’s the film space the other side of Hollywood – call them, total situational sleeper films – the art of the surveillance anti-thriller.

Related: LA's Surveillance Timeblades; The Killer Drone's Afghani Hive; War Room; The Panoptic Arcade; "Sweet Tea"; Architectural Clairvoyance and the Spaces of Terrorist Prevention.

(Thanks G for the link!)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Return of POSTOPOLIS!

[Image: POSTOPOLIS! LA. Logo, thanks to Joe Alterio, 2009.]

It’s been a year and a half since I made this announcement the first time around, and I’m just as excited if not more so to make it again right now. POSTOPOLIS! is back!!!

This time, the crazy weeklong arcade of conversation (around all things ‘spatial’) will weave its way through another hyper-caffeinated babble-scape of tangential architectural detour out here on the Left Coast.

Awwwww yeaaahhhhh….headed to that other bombastic city everyone loves to hate so much, or hates to love, or secretly loves but outspokenly hates! or, wherever you stand – pure love, pure hate, we’re headed there to help! – yup, POSTOPOLIS! will soon be sinking its chatty tentacles deep into the bowels of Los Angeles, a city of the past and the future; a city (which has surely become a city now) of perpetual destruction and simulation; more than just ‘a collection of suburbs in search of a city,’ it’s a giant sleeping ogre laid flat over the arid desert plain where Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.”
Ha. It’s LA! And it’s definitely ever-sprawling, it certainly attracts a strange bunch, it's hungry and so best to gather yourself now and get ready to roll!

Real quick: For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, POSTOPOLIS! was a event fellow bloggers [Geoff Manaugh (BLDGBLOG), Dan Hill (City of Sound), Jill Fehrenbacher (Inhabitat)] and myself, alongside Joseph Grima, the director of the Storefront for Art and Architecture gallery in New York City where we organized and held it back in ‘07. The idea was to examine blogging’s impact on the greater architectural discussion at large that is had in academia and design studios, the media, through professionals, critics and books, etc., and to generally bring people from assorted ‘spatially curious’ perspectives to share their thoughts on space production and reflection to help make evident a wider spectrum of what can actually constitute architectural discourse – basically, architecture blogs as a means for de-limiting the scope traditional discourse. We carried on for 5 marathonic days and had an amazing time meeting people at the Storefront, catching up with everyone from Lebbeus Woods to Tom Vanderbilt, Lawrence Weschler and Robert Neuwirth, just name a few. You can read up on it all here, and here if really want to see what you missed – Dan did an unbelievably superior job of covering the entire thing at City of Sound.

However, the LA line up is a little different – we will miss Jill and her great effort pulling together a green perspective, but in addition to Geoff (SF), Dan (Sidney, Aus.) and myself (SF), David Basulto from the popular ArchDaily & Plataforma Arquitectura will join us from Chile, as will Jace Clayton, a New York City-based musical globetrotter and writer, who is also a dj ambassador of hybrid culture (he pens Mudd Up! and attended POSTOPOLIS! back in NYC); and, last but not least, the ever-inspiring omniscient voice of the blogosphere-meets-art world Régine Debatty from We-Make-Money-Not-Art, who claims to operate from Europe but is obviously more ‘everywhere’ than the rest of us. It’s gonna be good – real good.

While Joseph and The Storefront for Art and Architecture from NYC is still the main man behind the scenes, a lot of this is being made possible by the great efforts of the folks at ForYourArt who are helping immensely to put POSTOPOLIS! LA together as part of the upcoming LA Art Weekend held between April 2-5. ForYourArt was founded by Bettina Korek in ‘07, whose mission is to serve as “an interdisciplinary producer, meta-curator and publisher that creates fresh initiatives by inviting cultural patrons to participate in creative civic engagement.” They’re being great, so let me make a huge shout out of a Thank You to Bettina and her crew for all their generosity and help.

So, heading to LA, these classically referenced highway knots seem pretty appropriate here as a metaphor for all the chatter that’s going to go on come March 31st and through April 4th, with winding onramps and offramps of artists, musicians, and scientists leading us down completely different paths of inquiry, inadvertently towards little hidden rhythms and dimensions of conceptual overlap, making hectic turns into slide presentations between speakers, periodic traffic jams in scheduling (comes with the territory, right?), yet with unexpected appearances and sites of fascination popping up along the way, not to mention all those other anxiously interesting moments in between just listening and learning about different angles of the city, and trying to come up with something different to add to conversation – fueled by the overall thrill of movement! LA Movement. Of meeting people in the great feedback loop that is the culture of the city.

Forgive my effusiveness, but POSTOPOLIS! (for those unable to attend last time) is kind of a run-on sequence of discussions moving one after the other in every direction for five days, sort of like a crazy cerebral roadtrip, a cable car chain of talks, quickfire presentations – you show up, you hang out, you listen, leave, come back, dredge your ears in something new, kind of like an arcade for architectural discussion – though not entirely architectural. It blew my mind last time simply with all the interesting people who showed up to make it what it was. So I hope I have thoroughly convinced all you LAish based readers out there to come check it out at the end of March.

It’s all about hanging out and discovering new work, taking the city apart, finding some new facet, or – just as good – someone else’s own take on the city, just constantly moving on through aboard this Baudrillardian-like tramway of holographic thought and reflection on space, place. It’s like a being a tourist of other people’s passions here in the city, but getting to engage the attractions as opposed to just gazing at them. LA should make it deliciously surreal.

But, that’s just me in my own head during a weeklong deluge of intimidatingly provocative conversation, interview, public dialogue, screen shows, films, readings, panels, poetry, urban guiding – there’s always some surprise, too. Needless to say, it’s going to be ridiculously fun again and you shouldn’t plan on missing it.

Certainly, several cities are ripe for this, but LA is just such a colossus of urban weirdness, odd vanguard, strange overindulgences, pockets of intrigue, plastic fused with concrete, the smell of oranges and gasoline, palms and taillights. It’s a neon oasis siphoning ungodly amounts of water to survive while fires rage along the sides of highways. There’s Hollywood – the capital of global entertainment; Skid Row – the capital of the nation’s homeless population; you’ve got some of the largest segregations of poverty and class war in any city in the world, blanketed by inescapable smog that blows off the coast where wax museum-like narcissism basks on the beaches; there’s the constant tremor of earthquakes and astounding earthquake simulations at work there; the Mexican border’s only 135 miles south, those seismic and political faultlines teased by bizarre porn manufacturing districts, old historic transit tunnels, buried speakeasies and mofioso vaults, the dreamlanes of future superstars and their great grandmothers; there’s psychotherapeutic sheisters and reflexology masseuses for everyone! It’s a car’s world and an urban fortress, a “carceral city” as Mike Davis has put it, a city of insidious barricades, micro prisons, domestic militarization, not to mention the birthplace of inimitable LA pseudo mystics and the country’s biggest SWAT team! What a cocktail. You’ve got Beverly Hills and, essentially, everything else, dog wshiperers, surveillance choppers, 18 year-old self-made millionaire real estate agents, land use wars on taco trucks, reality TV wannabes and the Laker girls! What’s not to like?

Yeah yeah yeah, and there’s plenty of quality architecture, and tons of art – and despite what many may think they know about LA (and I don’t profess to know LA inside out myself at all), it’s got loads of real culture, too.
And we’re hoping to dive in deep. And for all you Socal heads out there to get your scuba gear ready.

Actually, there are a bunch of amazing projects I hope to touch upon there. I can’t wait! However, if reading this, you know of some incredible LA based project, or person, or group, org, something that you think Subtopia simply could not bare to miss, or should speak to, please – add it to the comments, or shoot me an email (subtopia dot blog at google mail). Would love to hear of anything in LA relevant to our little blog here. Please!

But, that’s the initial announcement! More to follow, obviously, as it all comes together. For now, mark this in your calendars:


A live 5-day blogathon of back-to-back discussions, interviews, panel talks,
slideshows, films and parties with scheduled and unscheduled guests, themed
around landscape and the built environment.

Tuesday, 31 March—Saturday, 4 April, 2009 (LA Art Weekend) 5pm—11pm daily
Brought to you by Storefront for Art and Architecture and ForYourArt.

Hosting Blogs:

Geoff Manaugh / BLDGBLOG (San Francisco, USA)
Dan Hill / City of Sound (Sidney, Aus.)
Bryan Finoki / Subtopia (San Francisco, USA)
Régine Debatty / We-Make-Money-Not-Art (Paris, France)
Jace Clayton / Mudd Up! (New York, USA)
David Basulto ArchDaily & Plataforma Arquitectura (Santiago, Chile)