Thursday, March 14, 2013

Archeology of Espionage

Syrian TV airs images of Israeli spy rocks discovered along Syrian Coast. (Via YNet)


A microphone designed to look like a smoke detector discovered in Guantánamo. (Via McClatchy)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Russian Military Raining Churches-in-a-box from the Sky (Priests Included)

[Image: Photo: Russian Airborne Force via Phuket News .]

"Airborne priests and flying churches are set to fortify Russian soldiers’ spirits. Now priests who serve in the Russian Army will have to learn basics of military training to deal with an extraordinary device.

A unique hi-tech air-dropped church will be introduced in the army. The church consists of a usual army tent and a life-sustaining module (a diesel power source, air conditioner and fridge).

The chapel is put on the ground with an airborne platform used to carry armored vehicles and other heavy military equipment.

As heated debate continues in the Russian government over rearmament and military spending, some enterprising army officials have found a way out. The airborne church is reportedly needed because there are special sacraments in the Orthodox Church that demand a substantial number of utensils.

However some suggest the church could be used in order to bump up soldiers’ spirits. Others have a bold assumption that the project’s aim is to totally demoralize enemy with an unbelievable scene: a plethora of priests raining down from the skyline.

In order to match their new flying service, chaplains from the Russian Airborne Force will have to take part in military games in mid-March with their fellow-servicemen. They will not only practice parachute jumping, but also study the construction of a platform carrying the brand new airborne church.

The Russian military says it is the only flying chapel on Earth. RT will publish video evidence of this miraculous place of worship descending to solid Earth as soon as we get hold of it." (source: Wing and a Prayer: Army's ‘flying priests’ to win war souls /

[Image: "Russian Orthodox priests underwent parachute training near Moscow this week as part of the military's new initiative to airlift makeshift churches into war zones to allow troops to attend services on the front line." via The Independent .]

And watch this VIDEO .

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Decoding Military Landscapes: #demilit

Tomorrow morning, Javier Arbona, Nick Sowers and myself will be convening at UC Berkeley to conduct a workshop for the Towards a Just Metropolis conference that is being held there over the weekend. The conference itself looks pretty good, lots of excellent presentors and topics coming together to further break down the tangled relationships between justice, spatial practice, and the city. If I had more time (and more money for an all inclusive conference registration ticket…oh the irony!) I would definitely be spending a lot of the weekend there.
Be that as it may, I am really exited about our workshop – Decoding Military Landscapes – that will be held tomorrow from 10:45 – 12:15. Hopefully we will recruit some others who are interested in rethinking the meaning of the contemporary archive, the production of public knowledge, and the crisis of the spatial condition, to carry this with us further into development, at a time our political climate seems ever more cloaked in secrecy, and the nature of ‘metropolitan’ all the more radically hijacked by the spectral spaces of militarism. If everyone were to become an observer and register of militarization's hyper-urban and spacio-political expansion, then what kind of infrastructure could we imagine to facilitate this? If we could turn the archival logic of the surveillance apparatus and the bureaucratic mechanisms of political secrecy against itself – or, if we could hijack the panopticon to, in effect, record itself and to measure its own dubious footprint which so far continues to evade public scrutiny – then what sorts of tools, what kinds of archival practices could be deployed towards the democratization of a new citizen monitoring of space? Could the archive not just be a measure of space, but a new public production of space; an open source archiving amounting to justice as a form of spatial practice?
Anyway, that’s just a glimpse. And hopefully, this will mark the beginning of an evolving project that will come out of this over time. For some additional info, here is the official text for the workshop.

### ### ###

TOWARD A JUST METROPOLIS: From Crises to Possibilities June 16–20, 2010 Conference • San Francisco Bay Area

#DECODING MILITARY LANDSCAPES //18 JUNE 2010 (check website for final details) // A PARTICIPATORY WORKSHOP TO DEVELOP A PUBLIC ARCHIVAL PRACTICE: come join a working group that will brainstorm an open-source archival tool to catalog and examine the legacy of military urbanization.

We want to begin with the premise that
: the crisis of the contemporary spatial condition is produced in part by the hyper-expansion of militarization, operating in realms removed from public scrutiny and agency.

Military space enforces conformity to a single prevailing mode and ideology of power. While space can be produced or transformed by a multitude of competing ideological claims (each of which in their own right may correspond to a certain context of ‘militancy’ and/or ‘militarization’), for this workshop military space is simply meant to connote the existing physical environment or imagined environments as these are configured by military power, including private corporations. This generic definition is intended to broaden the scope of what military space is, how it can be perceived in a spectrum rather than as spatial object, how it can be engaged, recorded—or archived—avoiding any preconceived idea about how military space does or does not manifest itself.

The legacies of the military exist at every scale of our society, from the historic bunkers of old military bases and tourist landmarks of earlier wars, to more central monuments like the Pentagon and its constellation of financial towers that serve the defense industry. While the army base epitomizes the most literal entrenchment of military space, its sphere expands from the cordoned barracks to the terrestrially detached orbital satellite.

The spatial dimensions of military power persist at the very core of our society on through the grandest public infrastructure, and continue all the way to the atomized in the form of RFID tags, biometrics, video games, GPS systems, and our SSNs. Suffice to say, the environment has always been constituted by the spatial forces of military evolution, but today hegemonic power only seeks to further erode any previous distinctions between ‘military’ and ‘civil’ space at unprecedented scales. Military space is now a pixilated blur of infiltrating actors —wealthy and legally insulated—whose logic poses great threat to the interfaces between ‘public’ and ‘private’, ‘human’ and ‘mechanic’, ‘transparent’ and ‘fortified’, ‘civic empowerment’ and ‘subjugation’.

Why an archive? What is the political crisis of current archival practice? What should a public archival practice look like?

Archiving has always been a critical task to the preservation of historic fact, national memory, and artifacts. However, with the rise in power of certain hierarchies and agencies responsible for this (from the Government to local historic preservation societies), the artifact has lost its potency, and a new political crisis of archiving has foisted itself upon the historical landscape. The artifact (the ruin, the memorial) is reproduced, or even manufactured, in the act of its preservation, and the more pertinent memories of political violence that are embedded within it are sanitized in order to make way for new methods of presentation. The military-historic legacy of a battlefield, for instance, is often stripped of its colonial details in order to meet a more suitable musealization of memory, and the artifact becomes yet a new weapon in the legacy of colonialism and in a war on memory itself.

Further, the artifact is too often hoarded by the agency of the archivalists themselves, and become useless in the public’s ability to engage them with new purposes and for the making of a future knowledge or collective plan. This distance between the hoarded artifact and the public’s desire to study and repurpose the artifact creates a political void that suspends the artifact in a kind of historic formaldehyde, and defeats the purpose of archiving itself. If the evidence that society gathers and stores from history can no longer be used by the public to generate new knowledge then what is the point of archiving in the first place?

We want to not only challenge the current practices of memorializing as a system of power, but to expose the techniques of this as they are rooted in the very production of military space.

That is to say, the production of military space is intertwined with the politics of archiving and the politics of memory. We hope to explore and decode these in this workshop. The web itself, of course, is the archetypal example of a military-industrial complex archival practice, and the paradoxical nature of working with the web is up for critical examination as well. We welcome hacking and hackable project ideas.

The hierarchies of archiving and the gathering and storing of evidence raise a number of questions about our informational society and the power structures of governance that arise from its practice. If the stated goal of archiving is to preserve history in a collective sense of the public, then we aim to challenge this status and the prevailing privatization of archiving as it is currently practiced. We want to start by asking, who are these archives predominantly designed to serve and who are they meant to exclude? If the results of archiving cannot be made uniformly accessible to all, then what is meant by ‘archive’?

What comes out of this workshop? Come join us and be a part of the outcomes!

We seek to reclaim the archive from forms of militarization and devise a tool or a practice that can be used by individuals and communities. Ideally, we would like this imagined instrument to be applied to the struggles against military urbanism in all its forms: “gang injunction zones” and designated “free speech zones”; Army recruiter-desiged video games and Second Life virtual space; nuclear waste transport corridors; privatized military housing, and so on and forth. Maybe it looks a bit like the Creative Commons badge and can sort search results. Maybe it persists through a Twitter hashtag such as #demilit. The archive will contain a diverse range of media from sound recordings to video clips. Whether it is hosted on its own server or on an existing social network, the archive will be open, dispersed, hackable and mutable. As such, we can make visible a more pervasive post-9/11 security landscape that eludes scrutiny.

Through public dialog we will develop the concept for a new media-driven public broadcast project that can be of equal use to citizens, researchers, activist groups, historians, and a host of other communities struggling to confront the urban realities of militarization.

During the workshop, we will synchronize the efforts of interested parties to produce a prototype of the #demilit archive .

Who is leading this workshop? The organizers of this workshop [ Bryan Finoki Subtopia | Javier Arbona UC Berkeley | Nick Sowers Soundscrapers ] will offer their experience as military scholars and web creators to foster new collaborative and inter-disciplinary methods for conducting citizen research. Influenced in part by the work of experimental geographers like Trevor Paglen, and databases like the Center for Land Use Interpretation and, we propose that art, photography, journalism, cartography, sound recordings, activism, historical archives, mobile technologies, social webs, oral histories and networks of physical exhibition spaces can be mobilized to record, expose, and redesign the vast dimensions through which military urbanism permeates cities and towns.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Subtopia Lecture: Ruin Machine

Dear all. It’s been way too long for the eerie subtopian silence to not finally come to an end, I know (and appreciate your patience!) but I’m afraid you will need to appreciate the drippy echoes of our sealed bunker here a bit longer.
But, I have several updates coming in the near future as soon as I have time! There was a trip to Detroit that was more than fascinating, and I just returned from a truly excellent and inspired weeklong workshop in Graz, Austria. There have also been some publications, and of course much to say about the two classes I've been teaching here at Woodbury; not to mention some future plans already in the works for next year. But, it will have to wait, I’m sorry.
However, if you are in San Diego this Thursday night I invite you to attend a presentation I am giving here at Woodbury’s School of Architecture at 6:30 PM, as I am the inaugural speaker kicking off a month long lecture series here on the post-industrial landscape. I will be discussing ruins in the context of globalization and the “geopolitics of decay.”
This is also working in conjunction with the next installment of OTRA/Another 2009, an architectural exhibition curated by my friend and colleague Rene Peralta focusing on the theme of Infrastructure, which will open to the public at Woodbury this Fri. evening. Go here for details of the participants.
For now, lecture details are here: the show begins at 6:30PM at Woodbury University School of Architecture, 2212 Main St., San Diego, 92113.
Hope you all can make it, and come say hello after if you do. Ciao for now, but Subtopia will have lots of news in the near future and hopefully get back on the posting path soon.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Peripheral Milit_Urb 30

[Image: Baghdad From the Air [Baghdad Bureau Blog]]

Members of U.S. Army Plead Guilty to Role in Scheme to Steal Equipment from the U.S. Military in Iraq // KBR Got Bonuses for Work that Killed Soldiers // Halliburton profits down by a half [BBC] // Pratap Chatterjee, "Cleansing Halliburton" [Tomgram] // Iraqi Seizes the Chance to Make War Profitable [NYT] // As Iraq Marks ‘Sovereignty Day,’ the Violence Continues [Danger Room] // Maps of U.S. Troop Deployments in Iraq [NYT] // Michael Schwartz, "Twenty-First-Century Colonialism in Iraq" [Tomgram]


Kabul to give diplomats an 'ordinary life' in Baghdad-style green zone [Guardian] // Pakistani military shows off captured Taliban base // US eyes private guards for bases in Afghanistan // U.S. Weighing New Road Rules for Troops in Afghanistan [Danger Room] // Danger Room in Afghanistan: Rebuilding Bamiyan // Danger Room in Afghanistan: Have It Your Way at Bagram?

Lahore to Peshawar: the trophy-target war [open Democracy] // Obama's Pick to Lead Afghan War Linked to Abuse of Prisoners & Secret Assassination Unit // Pakistan Aid Tops Iraq, Afghanistan in War Spending Bill [Danger Room]

[Image: source]


‘Dozens of Civilians’ Killed in Afghanistan Air Raid: Report [Danger Room] // Taleban face human shields charge [BBC] // Thousands flee Pakistan valley as truce crumbles // Officials: Taliban May Have Faked Civilian Slaughter [Danger Room] // Why Isn't This on CNN? Afghan Refugee Describes Recent US Bombings // Afghan villagers get payments for battle that killed civilians [Los Angeles Times] // Villagers in Afghanistan Describe Chaos of U.S. Strikes [NYT] // U.S. Rejects Afghan Civilian Death Estimate // Eight Civilians Dead in New Afghan Airstrike [Danger Room] // Gates Promises to Reduce Afghan Civilian Deaths [NYT] // Military - US Airstrikes Likely Killed 26 Civilians [NYT] // Up to 150 Afghan Civilians Killed in US Attack on Western Province // Drone War Escalates; 365 Dead So Far in ‘09, Study Says // Killer Drones to Get Sound System
// Video: Inside America’s Drone HQ // A defence force of Terminators is almost here [The Age] // The wrong target: air strike, legal limit, human voice [open Democracy] // Training the Top Guns of drone aircraft [Los Angeles Times] // Use of drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan: deadly, but legal? [CSM] // New Use for Your iPhone: Controlling Drones

Chief Army Chaplain in Afghanistan distributes local-language Bibles, orders congregation to convert locals [Boing Boing] // Afghanistan quarantines its only pig [Los Angeles Times]

Who Are the Real Psychopaths in Afghanistan? [AlterNet] // The Cowboys of Kabul [Mother Jones] // Pepe Escobar, Pipelineistan Goes Af-Pak [Tomgram] // Afghanistan's Tipping Point [Mother Jones] // Afghanistan’s lost decade [open Democracy]

Afghan kids find skateboards the wheel deal [Los Angeles Times] // Shadowy Iranian Vigilantes Vow Bolder Action [NYT] // Kickturns in Kabul: Skateboard park to be built in Afghanistan [Architecture for Humanity] // Afghanistan's first national park waits for tourists CSM] // Army Farmers Work to Regrow Afghanistan [Danger Room]

[Image: "Palestinians sit among billboards promoting park space on land widely seen as the ancient capital of the biblical King David. Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times. SEE PRUNED: More Spatial High Jinks 3: The Forests of Isratine and Palesrael [Pruned] .]


Parks Fortify Israel’s Claim to Jerusalem [NYT] // Israel 'using tourist sites to assert control over East Jerusalem' [Guardian] // Another roadblock for Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance [Archinect] // An Infrastructural Lifeline for Palestine and Israel [InfraNet Lab] // Dilemma of Palestinian settlement builders [BBC]

The Contested Landscape of Jerusalem [Complex Terrain Laboratory] // Life in Nu'man land [Guardian] // Israeli military occupation 'severely compromises Bethlehem' [Guardian] // Working the West Bank checkpoints [BBC] // UN: Israeli buffer zone eats up 30 percent of Gaza's arable land [CSM] // Amos Guiora on Israeli Administrative Detention [The Complex Terrain Laboratory] // How Israel's naval blockade denies Gazans food, aid [CSM] // Hamas Shifts From Rockets to Culture War [NYT] // New U.S.-Israeli Crime Ring Detailed [NYT] // Spies’ Roots Reach Deep in Lebanon [NYT]

Gallery: Inside Alaska’s Answer to Area 51 Photo: Department of Defense.]


Construction Crew Severs Secret ‘Black Line’ [Threat Level] // Pentagon’s Black Budget Grows to More Than $50 Billion (Updated) // DARPA 3D reasoning engine to identify urban threats // Darpa’s Simple Plan to Track Targets Everywhere // Inside the Military’s Secret Terror-Tagging Tech // Google Earth Project Maps the Fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan

U.S. Cyberattack Console Aims to Turn Grunts into Hackers // Inside America’s (Mock) Attack on North Korea

Sweat = Threat? Army Looks at ‘Abnormal Perspiration’ as Sign of ‘Harmful Intent’ // Army Orders Bases to Stop Blocking Twitter, Facebook, Flickr // Future Warbot Powered by Xbox Controller

UK Anti-Terror Technology: 007 or 1984?
CIA’s ‘Black’ Helicopters Land in Court //

[Image: The gates of Malibu - The gates of Malibu [Los Angeles Times]


The Mega-embassy That Wasn’t [Voltaire] // Buildings watchdog Cabe calls for fortress-like US embassy plan in London to be rejected [Guardian] // Everyday is Doomsday in Washington [Tomgram] // Barack Obama faces 30 death threats a day, stretching US Secret Service [Telegraph] // Robot negotiates with mentally ill man who threatened White House (UPDATED) [Boing Boing] // The Case of the Missing H-Bomb: The Pentagon Has Lost the Mother of All Weapons [AlterNet] // Federal Courts Says D.C. Police Checkpoints Were Unconstitutional [Washington Post] // Staples Center at core of wide security cordon in downtown L.A. [Los Angeles Times] // Man who drove into City Hall gets 10-year sentence [Boing Boing] // When Glass Acts Like Concrete and Steel [NYT] // High school mixes algebra, homeland security [Los Angeles Times] // Cheney’s New House Is CIA Adjacent [Wonkette] // Lawmaker Defends Imprisoning Hostile Bloggers [Threat Level] // White House declines to release scary photos of N.Y. flyover [Los Angeles Times] // Night chopper flights over L.A. are tied to military training [Los Angeles Times] // Homeland Security Is Not Statistics Driven [Armchair Generalist] // Terror law used to stop thousands 'just to balance racial statistics' [Guardian] // The Ultimate Lock Picker Hacks Pentagon, Beats Corporate Security for Fun and Profit // At Last: US Rethinking Color-Coded "Threat Level" Terror Warning System [AlterNet]

Swine flu: There is no known antidote for panic [The Guardian] // Martial Law and the Militarization of Public Health: The Worldwide H1N1 Flu Vaccination Program

Senate measure would allow loaded guns in national parks [MiamiHerald] // Shotguns, AK-47's and Your National Parks // Report: militia activity on the rise in US [CSM] // Pastor Invites Flock to Bring Their Guns to Church [NYT] // Concealed guns law rejected in close Senate vote

Town bans hoods, hats, shades in banks [Boing Boing] // Professor Gets 4 Years in Prison for Sharing Drone Plans With Students [Slashdot] // LA cop union buys stake in newspaper, demands critical writers be fired [Boing Boing] // Florida town orders employees to wear underwear and cover wounds [Boing Boing]

Obama Continues Bush-Era Secrecy: No Release of Transcripts for Destroyed "Torture Video" Tapes [Boing Boing] // Democrats Say C.I.A. Deceived Congress [NYT] // Who is the CIA allowed to kill? [Salon] // Group Plans Lawsuit To Unveil the CIA’s ‘Pentagon Papers’ [Threat Level] // Bush’s Secret NSA Spying May Have Tainted Prosecutions, Report Warns [Threat Level] //
"Community Security" Mission Creep at Homeland Security [CIP Americas Program]

[Image: By Nick Sowers, via The Wonders of White Sands [Archinect]]


Australia Launches Anti-Terror Operation [NYT] // Russian Subs Patrolling Off East Coast of U.S. [NYT] // Learning For Life [NO CAPTION NEEDED] // New Desert City [Archinect] // Russia-China war games battle extremists, separatists [CSM] // Strange New Air Force Facility Energizes Ionosphere, Fans Conspiracy Flames // Obama Seeks $46 Million for Military Base in Colombia // New Military Base in Colombia Would Spread Pentagon Reach Throughout Latin America [CIP Americas Program]

Chalmers Johnson, "Dismantling the Empire" [Tomgram] // Threat Convergence: Subversion, Destabilization and Insecurity // US needs 'digital warfare force' [BBC] // Taking the Politics Out of Insurgency [The Complex Terrain Laboratory] // Scientists in Moral Panic: Debating ‘Mercenary Anthropology’ « Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara // A new security paradigm: the military-climate link [open Democracy] // Hacking The Deep Ecology of War [The Complex Terrain Laboratory]

Government Experiments on U.S. Soldiers: Shocking Claims Come to Light in New Court Case | Health and Wellness [AlterNet] // US war zone troops 'can smoke' [BBC]

Blackwater Founder Implicated in Murder [The Nation] // US Still Paying Blackwater Millions [The Nation] // Bill Moyers: The Rise of Private Armies -- Mercenaries, Murder and Corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan [AlterNet]

In the U.S. Military, Energy-Saving Projects Proliferate // Army Starts Solar Plant; Next Step: Care About Cilmate Change [Danger Room]

Cadets Trade the Trenches for Firewalls [NYT] // Plan to teach military robots the rules of war [New Scientist] // BMW Builds the Ultimate Security Machine [Autopia] // American Sikhs Run Billion-Dollar Security Firm [NPR] // Women at Arms - G.I. Jane Breaks the Combat Barrier as War Evolves [NYT] // How Baida Wanted to Die - [NYT]

[Image: Fake DHS "photography license" for fake no-photos laws [Boing Boing]]


1,000 surveillance cameras = 1 solved crime in the UK // Giant sphere attracts attention in Stead // Inside the ‘James Bond Villain’ Data Center [Data Center Knowledge] // London cops catch and search a potential terrorist every three minutes [Boing Boing] // British cops deliver Catch 22 to photographers: you're not allowed to know which areas you're not allowed to photograph [Boing Boing] // Shield Law Overturns Warrant for Student Photographer [Raw File] // CCTV schemes in city and town centres have little effect on crime, says report [The Guardian] // Google Threatened With Sanctions Over Photo Mapping Service in Germany [NYT] // Stores paint ads on roofs for satellite map services // Airport security bares all, or does it? [CNN] // Judge Tosses Telecom Spy Suits [Threat Level] // Suit Seeks Records on Planned Surveillance Network [City Room Blog] // Twitterers defy China's firewall [BBC] // Lancaster, Pa., keeps a close eye on itself [Los Angeles Times] // Corridors of Power [BLDGBLOG] // Utah will host new $1.9 billion NSA spy center [Desert News] // Keeping an Eye on License Plates [Planetizen] // Thousands of Crimes Not Displaying on LAPD Crime Map [Planetizen] // Britain will subject everyone who works with kids to multiple, repeated police-checks [Boing Boing] // FBI Lab Processes 600 Billion Fingerprint Sets a Day (Update: actually, more like 200,000) |[Threat Level] // Subway Train Under Full Surveillance [Planetizen] // Canadians vow mass-mooning of US spy-blimp [Boing Boing] // School's CCTV 'Big Brother-ish' [BBC]

[Image: Daniel and Geo Fuchs’ STASI – Secret Rooms [Prison Photography].]


The Sludge Threat [Planetizen]

Excavation begins at WWI mass graves at French village [Los Angeles Times] // Wal-Mart Proposed Near Civil War Site Angers Historians // Border bunker battle // Relics of once-mighty Maginot Line dot France's border with Germany, Italy

Flight 93 memorial plan makes progress [BBC] // Post-9/11 Realities Warp Plan for a Manhattan Transit Hub [NYT] //

South Korea's abandoned airports [BBC] // WWII Stalingrad diorama photos [Boing Boing] // Memorial war [Honolulu Weekly] // The battle to defend military history [The Jakarta Post] // Nazi college to become museum [The National] // Underground Cities and Bunkers: Living Down Below [Dark Roasted Blend] // Daniel and Geo Fuchs’ STASI – Secret Rooms [Prison Photography] // Foreclosures Add to Hurricane Hazards [NYT] // The Reclamation of Governors Island [Archinect] // Europe trains' history of intrigue isn't over [Los Angeles Times] // TOPOTEK 1 Selected for Imperial War Museum North Exterior [Bustler] // A Tour of America's Nuclear History [Planetizen] // A tense yet colorful tour of Korean DMZ [Los Angeles Times] // Afghan War’s Buried Bombs Put Risk in Every Step // Iraq Suffers as the Euphrates River Dwindles [NYT] // Search and Rescue: Squad Leader Musters Robots to US Disaster Zones // Berlin's Invisible Wall: Little Is Left Today of the Cold War's Most Famous Monument [SPIEGEL] // Port Covington: The Ghost of the Masterplan in Tinkerer's Paradise [sevensixfive] // On Hitler, Hadrian, bunkers and bananas [(New) Babylon Reloaded] // Architecture and Design 101: Where is the only brick artillery fortress built on the West Coast? // Legacy of War - Fake Work at the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum [NYT] // Tsonjin Boldog Journal - Genghis Khan Rules Mongolia Again, in a P.R. Campaign [NYT] // Photos from inside an abandoned Titan missile silo [Boing Boing]

[Image: A Modern Ozymandias, NYT. Photo by Richard Mosse.]


Of Trees and Neighbors [The Brooklyn Rail] // Positions in Flux - Panel 1: Art goes politics - Hans Bernhard from UBERMORGEN.COM [we make money not art] // A hostage to hallucination [Mind Hacks] // Autopsies of War Dead Reveal Ways to Save Others [NYT] // Emanuel Licha's War Tourist series at LOOP [we make money not art] // 'Gangsta gene' identified in US teens [New Scientist] // UCLA law students help taco truck operators overturn L.A. ordinance [Los Angeles Times] // Designing The Friendly Skies [a456] // Sewer Zeppelins for the Era of Infrastructural Anarchy & Other Roman Tales [Pruned] // Live Stage: The Torture Memos [Second Life] [Networked_Performance] // ATMs that spray attackers with pepper-spray [Boing Boing] // Countering Riots, China Rounds Up Hundreds [NYT] // Art History? No, a Master’s in Art Crime in Amelia, Italy [NYT] // In Brazil, judge holds city accountable for stray bullets [CSM]

[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 28 29]

Monday, August 17, 2009

Subtopes B-lining to San Diego

[Image: Woodbury University, San Diego School of Architecture. Photograph by Hewitt Garrison]

So, part of the reason it’s been so quiet on Subtopes as of recent is due to some big news I’m excited to share here. As it turns out, I’m heading down to San Diego to teach for the Fall semester at Woodbury University’s School of Architecture at their new campus in Barrio Logan down by the shipyards where the Navy constructs its sea arsenal.

As you can imagine I’m pretty fired up about this, especially since the seminar I’ll be leading will largely draw upon Subtopia for framework. The title of the course is ‘Military Urbanism’ Vs. ‘Spatial Justice.’ Yet, as good as that sounds I’m finding it a huge challenge to distill and organize Subtopia into an actual seminar. It’s actually a very good exercise; think of your blog as a seminar, how would that make you rethink it? Regardless, after a few months of some serious structuring I think I have a good handle on how to narrate the class and am very much looking forward to it, not to mention how honored I am to have been invited.

Hopefully the students will get out and find some crazy critical aspects to their city they’ve never noticed before, or just simply never stopped to really pay attention – which is the clearest goal; to help them interrogate the spaces around them. Yes, interrogate. To turn them into “spatial interrogators”, Subtopes-style.

The class is going to be a survey of “military urbanism” starting with some historical background on the origins of the city as a political entity and the conceptual development of the nation-state, before moving through “military urbanism” as it is practiced in various parts of the world (e.g. Occupied Territories and the “War on Terror”), then onwards to the sheer omniscience of this stuff today. Borrowing from Krzysztof Wodiczko’s term “interrogative design” I hope to further develop our lenses for observing everyday space and the dimensions of our daily environments as they are inseparably linked with politics, state power, militarism, security, (in)justice, etc. The general idea here is that military urbanism in the end is not just some condition far off on the other side of the world in the Middle East, or on the battlefields of Afghanistan – but, rather is completely constitutive of our normal existence, of capitalism and urbanity itself, of the constructs of globalization and democratic space today. Military urbanism at the contemporary condition, absolutely pervasive, etc. You read the quasi-About page, you know the routine.

San Diego is actually a perfect city for this since it has such an intense relationship with the military industrial-complex that I hope to really get out and measure with the students. The seminar will conclude thinking about what some allies of ours (whom you should know by now) have termed as “spatial justice” and how spatial practioners can respond to the ubiquitous nature of military urbanism.

That is all really a short take on the syllabus (which I may post in full once the class gets rolling), but should give you an idea. Anyway, super excited. I hope to relay all of this on Subtopia in various dispatches over the next few months, so – even though it’s been a bit quiet in these parts recently, and probably will be for a short foreseeable future, there is the unfolding of all of this look forward to. Subtopia in a strange and cool sort of practice.

As if that’s not enough, I will also be co-teaching an urban design studio with my friend Rene Peralta (whom you’ve heard me before refer to as “the architectural mayor of Tijuana”), on post-industrial infrastructure as it can be developed and explored within Barrio Logan, a historic Latin American community that has fought over the decades to preserve a heritage there amidst redevelopment, post-industrial abandon, all in the shadow of the Navy.

Sorry to be so low key, and to rush off again for now – but just had to finally let everyone know. If anyone has any suggestions for things/places/sites-to-see/activities-to-do/people-to-meet, please let me know. And any SD/TJ readers out there interested in meeting up at some point, I’d also love to hear from you.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Hutong Cemeteries

[Image: Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | July 14, 2009, Photo by Bert de Muynck.]

A nice three-part series of posts over at Moving Cities draws our attention once again to the rapid disappearance of the Hutongs in Beijing, which seems to have somewhat vanished from the conversation now that the attention brought to them during the Olympic Games has elapsed.
What is a follow up to a previous publication written by Bert de Muynck for MUDOT, (Making mince meat of memory) he asks, “where have the memory masochists gone to?” and why has “the topic of the disappearance of the hutongs disappeared from the agenda. Are the hutongs the victims of their own hype? If we don’t debate it, does it mean we don’t care (and we actually have never cared about it)?”
It’s a cogent comparison I think, the disappearance of attention to the hutongs with their own physical demolition. Might we take it a step further and ask, has the media attention in some way been equally demolished? Or, has the effort to preserve the hutongs in Beijing merely given in and lost will to resist, and thus the scrutiny over them has followed? What is the real connection between the actual disappearance of the hutongs and the media attention that once hawked over the process?
In some ways, I wonder, if even this post-Olympic phase is where the real damage is done, not only in physical terms to the neighborhoods but the real damage to memory as the public enters into a larger collective amnesia of the entire history of the hutongs.

Included are some great photographs Bert has taken of a specific area that is being diced for the construction of the Gulou Dajie subway station; corridors of historic rubble, atomized memory bits, the urban masks of blue walls (which we have written about ourselves here), homes perforated by what almost looks like concentrated blasts of urban warfare, tractors ripping through the alleys like robotic droogs on a rampage, furniture left on the street as if abandoned elderly crouched and waiting to die alone.

In an email exchange with Bert, I asked him: what if any positive memory archival projects are standing strong in all of this? Is there a sense that the Chinese are forfeiting a big part of themselves, or are there new forms of activism desperately trying to render something positive out of the rubble? From an architectural historian perspective, what strategies of archive could be discovered in this scenario? Is there something experimental that could come out of the demolitions?

In part 2 Bert discusses some of the preservation efforts that are happening there, for example, "punctual preservation" whereby single elements are somewhat stored in the new structures. In the final 3rd part, he looks at what he calls “the celebration of the collapse of pre-Olympic “Beijing Hutong Preservation”-bubble” and details the “phenomenon of the hutong “fake-overs” and “paper preservation”.

It is of course a very interesting topic for various reasons and from various angles. One could easily put this in perspective of New Orleans today, or Flint, Detroit, or even parts of downtown San Francisco for that matter, Tijuana, Gaza, Rio, the greater foreclosure crisis -- you name it. Redevelopment, or, the tragic lacks of proper redevelopment in some cases, are leaving places across the world in semi-erased states of manmade disaster everywhere, whether they're ordered by the evaporation of capital or are completely obliterated by the poorest of responses to natural disaster and war, the politics of redevelopment are leaving marks just as quickly as they are taking old historic marks away from the landscapes of memory. Glad someone is keeping watch.

Thanks Bert for pointing us that way!

(All Images: Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | July 14, 2009, by Bert de Muynck.)

Friday, July 31, 2009

Over the Siege 2: Recycling the Wall

[Image: Rafah, southern Gaza. Wastewater treatment plant. ©ICRC/M. Greub/il-e-01749.]

Real quick, continuing on the topic of Palestinians finding ways of transcending the Israeli siege by utilizing the rubble of their own destroyed infrastructure – or what I guess I have referred to as acting “over the siege” rather than “under” it; “over” in this sense signifies that the Palestinian people are acting in plain view using the ruins wrought by the siege as resource for reconstruction, while “under” would mean having to conduct life out of view as through the tunnels underground.
A brief mention a few weeks back that caught my eye: the ICRC (Red Cross) “will repair and upgrade the water treatment center in Rafah with recycled cement from Gaza-war rubble and fragments of the Israeli border wall.”
Again, due to the siege which prevents vital materials like concrete from entering Gaza, critical infrastructure such as sewage plants that were severely damaged by IDF assaults are left to rot and leave thousands of people without basic services like water and sanitation.
Firstly: it is unfathomable to me that damaging this type of infrastructure is not a war crime; secondly: the fact Israel blocks the necessary building materials from entering the country to repair this is unconscionable; but, finally, thirdly: it is perhaps the most symbolic act of all right now on the part of the Palestinians and the international community together to use the bitter pieces of the Israeli Separation Wall to put their own nation back together again -- to simultaneously disassemble the wall and reconstruct the ruins of their own society. Just too important for me not to note here.
As far as I understand, according to the ICRC, the portion of the Israeli barrier that is being recycled to repair the Rafah sewage plant is from the remains of “the old Rafah border wall that lay abandoned after its partial demolition in January 2008.”
Further, they state:

The upgrades to the treatment plant, which are being made in cooperation with Rafah municipality and the Coastal Municipal Water Utility, will help prevent serious risk to public heath and further harm to the environment. In addition, the treated sewage water will help fill the underground aquifer, which is the sole source of water in a territory suffering from a severe shortage.

We will be keeping an eye on this topic in the future.

Over the Siege
Repurposing the Settlements
A small death in the nomadic fortress' bosom

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Over the Siege

[Image: Gaza's new mud homes, BBC]

This is hardly breaking news by now but needs to be mentioned here as we try to return to our own temporarily abandoned excavations at Subtopes. Forgive the two month silence; breaks were needed to tend to other business, and for some exciting reasons that I will be relaying shortly. For now, we’re rolling up our sleeves and activating the bellows to our air hoses again – it’s time to surface with our tunnel gear and get Subtopia sinking down below again. When we say surface that’s really just code for digging in again.

As you may or may not know at this point the recent Israeli annihilation of Gaza which commenced just two days after Christmas of 2008 and carried on for weeks crossing over the new year, left an estimated 400,000 Gazans without running water, and at one point 800,000 without working electricity and lights, while roughly 5000 homes were critically damaged if not totally destroyed, casting tens of thousands into homelessness in the decimated contours of Gaza’s rubbled craters that suddenly supplanted their homes, industries, and neighborhoods like massive footprints of airborne berserkers that never actually touched ground. It was one of the quickest and worst plunges into manmade disaster the world has witnessed in some time, and the density of the area certainly didn’t help to soften Israel’s blows. It was a lesson in manufacturing scaled abomination.

[Image: Photo: Abid Katib/Getty Images]

I am not going to recount all the details of the conflict where close to two thousand Gazans were reportedly killed, of which we read “more than 43% of deaths and injuries were women and children”, and where ancient cultural antiquities were pummeled shamelessly despite international law that prohibits attacks on cultural monuments and artifacts. Instead, I will offer you this brief assessment put forth after the week of January 15-22 by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights who was tracking the progressing damage states week by week:

The vast majority of casualties were civilians. "Entire features of many areas have disappeared, and civilian infrastructure services have completely collapsed." Other destruction included:

-- hospitals, ambulances, civil defense and private vehicles, and relief services damaged or destroyed;
-- thousands of homes and whole neighborhoods damaged or destroyed as well as -
-- roads, bridges, power installations, sewage facilities, water wells, and other infrastructure;
-- 28 public civilian facilities;
-- ministry, municipality and other government buildings; the parliament building;
-- UN sanctuaries;
-- commercial buildings;
-- 121 industrial and commercial workshops destroyed; at least 200 others damaged;
-- fishing boats and harbors;
-- 21 private projects, including cafeterias, wedding halls, tourist resorts and hotels;
-- 30 mosques completely destroyed; 15 others damaged;
-- five concrete factories;
-- 60 police stations;
-- five media buildings and two health ones completely destroyed;
-- 29 educational institutions completely or partly destroyed; and
-- thousands of dunams of agricultural land razed.

And that probably only covers a portion of the footprint. Needless to say, Gaza was pretty much brutally battered. Disproportionately so? -- (as in, the attack was a non-justifiable over-response to the constant volley of Hamas rockets) -- well, just about everyone in the world except the IDF seems to think so. But, no one can say this wans’t out of character, either.

[Image: Palestinians moved through the rubble of a house destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City. Israeli troops edged closer to the heart of Gaza City on the 19th day of the Gaza war. Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

So, given this as the starting point for this post, next thing you ought to know is that reconstruction efforts have been utterly stymied, by various political forces naturally but largely due to Israel’s refusal to allow the most basic of needed supplies like concrete, steel, and even glass to enter into the strip at all claiming those materials would only serve Hamas’ efforts to rekindle its armament and offensive capabilities. Egypt has fallen more lockstep in line with Israel by enforcing its borders while the US has thrown in some tunnel detection technology for testing.
But, there is a lot more to the siege than that and a lot more Israel is doing to effectively strangle Gaza -- but, again, I will leave you to your own devices there, too.
4 billion dollars were initially pledged by the international community to help rebuilding efforts, but the money has since sat frozen, unspent. As long as Hamas would be responsible for the financial management of those funds, no one feels comfortable actually releasing them.
It’s a mess of the most urban dismal kind, really. And there the innocent people of Gaza sit waiting, choking, assembling for some signs of hope to spring from their wasteland.

[Image: Ashraf Amra for The New York Times]

Yet the people of Gaza, fed up with just about everyone (including Hamas) have begun to rebuild on their own out of those piles of jagged ashes. And, ironically enough, the material they’re using – good old fashioned mud – is coming from perhaps the most contentious of infrastructural conduits sustaining Gaza: the underground cross-border “smuggler tunnels.”
Though, I’m hesitant to call them smuggler tunnels myself because “smuggler” seems to do the proud and resourceful Palestinians a gross derogative disservice in my view; to attach a stigma like that to these trade routes which for all intents and purposes are the only linkages to the outside world keeping them alive, just seems like more dangerous linguistic othering of the Palestinians than any really useful reference at this stage. I mean, when you’re forced to smuggle, by sheer necessity of survival, due to forces completely outside of your own control, when the power to decide your own destiny has been taken from you (as a nation), can it really be called smuggling anymore? Further, can smuggling really be considered an illegal or illicit act in this case? The very use of the word here to me seems to play into the feral-ization, if you will, of the Gazan people – it helps portray them as uncivilized subversives and criminal traders.
I call them, simply – Gaza’s border tunnels.

Regardless, these tunnels now all the more seem to be proving their true worth and resource, perhaps even evidencing further dimensions of some of their political innocence. As you may remember, the tunnels were heavily targeted by the IDF because many were suspected of being used to smuggle arms for Hamas across the Egyptian border. While some were (and still are, for all we know) used for weapons, many if not most by that point were really only serving as the economic lifelines of a people who had no other means for accessing the bare necessities of life, since both Israel and Egypt control all of Gaza’s borders. The strip is literally severed and somewhat de-sovereignated by the Israeli siege, and the tunnels represent the frontier of Gaza’s fight for geo-economic autonomy.
Yet, how the IDF chose to target and destroy (or attempt to destroy) those tunnels and to what degree the intelligence and effectiveness of those bombing campaigns were accurate, we will never fully know. Yet, the tunnel trade is still largely in tact, also to the extent that it is really almost a myth as to how many tunnels still operate (but think somewhere in the hundreds), and in some cases are even more fortified than ever before. For the most part they are still delivering the same harmless goods they always did: livestock, laundry detergents, cigarettes, basic fuels, toys, and chocolates.

[Image: Photograph: Kevin Frayer/AP]

The tunnels obviously fascinate Subtopia for several reasons: their epic versatility and historic resilience as a sort of timeless script of terrestrial fossils inscribed into the earth that has served humanity as a great epochal crutch many times, but in this case also because of the specific ambiguous nature of target-production they presented for the IDF. On one hand, the tunnels might be considered legitimate military targets (i.e. weapons smuggling tunnels), while on the other the tunnels (which had just prior to Israel’s attack been legally sanctioned by Hamas as national infrastructure to be regulated through taxation and labor laws) – were civilized and had nothing to do with weapons smuggling, militant armoring, or any other such violence-towards-Israel associations. Hence, the ambiguity of a dual-use target.
However, I always thought this was a perfectly designed outcome of the Israeli siege that would in the end ensure a convenient excuse to destroy the tunnels. Basically, by forcing the Gazan economy underground the IDF made a suspicious target of the entire tunnel trade infrastructure. By tunnelizing Gaza’s economic corridors they forced them into a blurry indistinguishable context shared with the weapons trade, thereby making it much easier to get away with annihilating all of the tunnels rather than singling out the military tunnels, whether they were legit targets or not, and ultimately attacking the larger infrastructure in order to further the effects of the siege.
It no longer even seemed to be about deciding on what is or is not a legal target anymore. The IDF in some way essentially preemptively produced their own targets in Gaza by virtue of the effects of the siege. Can targetting the tunnels be considered an act of urbicide?

Yet, as we said, not only did many of the tunnels survive those overwhelming bombing barrages (bombs which still fall on them today), but many have found their routes even deeper underground now able to avoid conventional detection technology, and resist fatal damage from the blasts. More importantly, the tunnels themselves have yielded tons and tons of valuable mud that have spurred new hopes in rebuilding efforts despite the siege, the atrocious geopolitics, and Hamas’ own barriers in this process.

[Image: Construction workers on a 5,000sqm building site haul buckets of clay under the blistering sun to mould large cement blocks to be used in building a school for handicapped children in Gaza City, © Erica Silverman/IRIN]

Hamas is actually supporting the mud-brick housing movement and has pledged money and assembled a special engineering committee to investigate a pilot project that will test a multistory school to determine just how safe and plausible building more widespread with mud brick can be. Of course, all of this has spawned a new temporary economy in tunnel mud removal and brick manufacturing, and the engineering itself is quite antiquated but none the more outdated. They’re using combinations of mud, sand, salt, and straw, and in some cases rubble to forge bricks and build basic homes. Some have already been said to have withstood elements of winter rains and harsh summer sun.
And so, the ingenuity of the Gazan people goes on!

[Image: Gaza's new mud homes, BBC]

With these story lines it’s all the more interesting to think of this housing not just as autonomous innovative refugee mud brick sheltering (something AFH could certainly appreciate), but as extensions of the tunnels themselves, as architectural by-products, or even another form of economic tunnel products, if you will. It’s fascinating to me that the tunnels even in their destroyed state continue to assist the Gazan economy. Refuge spaces spawning from rooted industries below the radar to provide some of the only protective roofing in the area.
It’s almost as if the tunnels had been turned inside out, sort of poetically unraveled overland as a result of the Israeli assaults, and now offer the dual benefit of both relief housing while also keeping the essential corridors of underground commerce alive.
In some ways it’s just good old-fashioned poetic justice bound with some gritty irony.
And for all Israel does to try and crush them, to expose and bleed them further to surface, their efforts have only shown to have driven the economic tunnels further underground while exposing how the tunnels can also serve the Gazan population in a completely humanitarian way, by being reinvented right there on the Gaza landscape for all to see in the form of shelter; the bowels of the tunnels regurgitated from the earth, reconfigured into neat stacks of the most needed thing of all – new housing, schools, mosques, new spaces of rebound. And so, the epic persistence and quasi-architectural resistance of the tunnels once again yields their amazing blueprints as uprooted spaces edited into fresh new infrastructure now in plain view.

[Image: A Palestinian boy sits on a row of adobe bricks in the town of Rafah, the centre of Gaza's mud industry (Mud, mud, glorious mud. Nothing quite like it for beating the Israeli blockade) / The Independent/EPA]

You might say, the tunnels in this "reused" regard have positioned the Palestinians in a small sense over the siege, not just under it, as the regular news headlines like to read when referring to the tunnels: Under the Siege.

[Image: Palestinians took boxes out of a building hit in an Israeli airstrike in the Rafah refugee camp. The Israeli military said its planes struck some 70 targets in Rafah overnight. Photo: Eyad Baba/Associated Press]

However, it begins to make us think and worry (maybe a bit paranoiacally). It is in other ways still a tragedy that the Gazans are being made to inhabit the tunnels (it’s one thing to force their economy there, but now their spaces of existence too?), only instead of actually crawling down into them where many die daily laboring they are living inside them reconstituted above ground.
One wonders by their very physical connection to the tunnels, will the IDF one day decide these housing structures are a threat, too? Is this merely falling into the strategy of anther IDF production of a Palestinian dual-use target? Not that the IDF ever needed any more justification than they themselves (and only themselves) have been willing to put forth in order to demolish Palestinian homes and structures, but I wouldn’t put it past them to claim the new mud-brick structures are somehow a threat to Israeli existence by virtue they’ve been forged by material from smuggler tunnels.
Come to think of it, why would they stop there: perhaps the IDF will begin to claim that every Palestinian is a target for simply consuming and living off of the products that come through the tunnels, as a way to biopolitically engineer the entire Gazan population as a wholesale terrorist suspect having literally digested smuggled goods.
OK, that might be a little extreme but then again the whole context is routinely terrorized by political and militaristic extremities. I’m not trying to fan the reality, really, but am very curious about how the ambiguities of what constitutes a legal military target and a dual-use target are analyzed and in some instances prefabricated. The notion of turning something into a target rather than deciding upon the legality of a target based on an international legal frameworks is nothing but precedented by the development of war, which has always been conducted not only on what a hostile threat has presented intrinsically but based on how militaries decide to view and classify targets by their own judgment and strategy.
I mean, it’s probably much more simple than that: war wouldn’t exist without targets. And targets don’t just materialize out of thin air. They’re projected as much as they present themselves within the logic of war. But, despite advances in technology and precision grade weaponry, the target seems to be all the more confused these days on the battlefield, shrouded in urban counterinsurgency sure but maybe also purposefully and politically/categorically confused as well, and is often just easily written off as collateral damage. Just look at the ongoing spate of civilian casualties in the Afghan/Pak region brought by U.S. drones.
A dangerous parallel seems to be developing: all the precision targeting weapons in the world don’t make much difference when the targets themselves become increasingly confused, and I don’t think the perfection of such weapons will be the tools to disentangle the ambiguous terrain of the dual-use target debate but may perhaps only further obscure the controversy. Which came first: confused targets or more precise weapons? Does it even matter? Both are being produced in their own ways, maybe even in some sort of unison. Of course, certain weapons respond better to a given target. To make a weapon perform at its own ideal, one might even design the target to accommodate the weapon. All of which is a very circuitous way of asking, how might the War On Terror be producing its own targets, to fit the scale of its military control?

Further Reading
Palestinian farmers use permaculture to challenge occupation / ei
Gaza: The destitute and the forgotten (Video) / Guardian

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Green Yonder

[Image: Photo by Lubos Pavlicek/CTK/AP.]

You may have read a few months ago the US began removing some of the street barriers that have propped up Baghdad’s security on a stilted network of blast walls and checkpoints for years, since—citing improved security—the Iraqi government is aiming to open all of the capital’s streets by the end of the year. As mentioned in this article, removal of the barriers is linked to “a security pact signed with Washington in November that requires US forces to withdraw from all cities and major towns by June 30”, (which some say is looking less likely already), “and from the country as a whole by the end of 2011.” We’ll see.
At the peak of the sectarian violence 88 streets were closed in Baghdad, we are told, and if the article is accurate, the government has already reopened 75 percent of them. However, reading on officials also state that many of the “the walls and T-wall anti-blast barriers” would still be kept in tact while the Green zone itself, which houses the Iraqi government and the US Embassy, will remain completely barricaded.
In Ghaith Abdul-Ahad’s 4 part video series for the Guardian -- City of Walls -- he traces the maze of concrete slab seemingly dropped from the sky into Baghdad to keep separate the Sunnis and Shiites, splicing neighborhoods and highways in half, and given how pervasive these walls still are all around the city it’s tough to imagine – despite the roads being opened – that Baghdad is getting on any kind of reunification track.

[Image: Blooming Iraq holds international flower festival/AP.]

Recently, Baghdad hosted a flower festival open in the streets to show how safety conditions are changing. But, as you know, there’s been a terrible new rash of car bombings recently that have taken hundreds of lives in just days, showing how tenuous the situation still is.
Yet, we read in the New York Times, despite the violence and the continued presence of the walls (which we’ve written about here on Subtopia numerous times already) many of the neighborhoods – having once held “a prevailing attitude of can’t-be-bothered, as seen in the buildings that went unpainted, crisscrossed by tangled wires from generators and satellite dishes, or the bomb debris just left lying”; that “smelled always of generator diesel and often of dead dogs, which rotted by the roadside untouched for fear they hid an I.E.D.,”; and where any “splotch of green” was “covered with thick dust”; further, when “Iraq seemed a place painted in desolation, and decorated with despair” – many of these neighborhoods are now apparently being revived by a wave of small scale landscaping projects.
Today, “buildings and walkways are trimmed by meticulously cared-for flower beds, with laurel hedges in geometric shapes, and so many roses that the breeze is fragrantly cloying.” All over, the Times continues, “fountains have started to spout again after years of disuse.”

[Image: Christoph Bangert for The New York Times, Iraq’s False Spring]

While taking such a flowery brush stroke to Baghdad’s battered landscape the article (aptly titled Iraq’s False Spring) is careful not to paint too hopeful a picture. Forgive the bulkitude here:

“This is not at all to say that the ugliness of a war zone isn’t still present. It’s pretty hard to make towering blast walls into a thing of beauty, no matter how much paint is deployed. Mad Max fortifications are still often the rule. Hescos — antiblast protection consisting of big wire containers of rubble — defy all attempts at decoration. They’re just huge piles of dirt. There are still many areas of the city where no one seems to have figured out whose job it is to pick up the trash.

One such area is the Green Zone. There, a series of murals of Iraqi landscapes, each stretching over three to six sections of blast wall, have been moved to protect an Iraqi Army camp, with no effort to keep them in the right order. The result is a crane-size jigsaw puzzle.”

However, if French businessman Jean-Marie Zimmermann has his way he will replace many of these concrete walls with trees and bushes and make the Green Zone truly green, he told the media recently.

[Image: The New Embassy Complex in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo via Sharon Weinberger]

Zimmermann works for Sinnoveg, “a 420-hectare nursery in eastern France” that develops "natural defensive weaved hedges" and “walls made from tightly bound thorny plants,” many of which have already gone to securing high profile sites, like “a nuclear research center outside Paris,” for example, “a juvenile detention centre, train stations and airports.”

[Images: Tree Nurseries Daniel SOUPE.]

Apparently, the company has patented its defensive line of woven organic fences and is the first to propose using these types of natural walls at such a scale.
Speaking about the Green Zone:

"This is the kind of place where we can provide protection. We can remake Baghdad as a city focused on nature, ecology and the environment, with a new concept of security," he (Zimmermann) says.

The principle is simple: plant a row of thorny trees and bushes 80 centimetres (32 inches) apart and weave the branches together. As the plants grow they form a dense and razor-sharp hedge that within three years can reach a height of six metres (20 feet).

Zimmermann said traditional barbed wire, tyre spikes, sensors and even metal barriers can be placed within the hedges -- an invisible back-up layer of security.

"A tank can go through but not a truck," he says.

Not really sure, but sounds to me like just another green-washed marketing tactic to get a big government contract, and sell the notion that anything green automatically equates to better no matter how shallowly “green” may even be defined (is weaved foliage in conjunction with other barriers really more green?); this also strikes me as ignoring the fact that simply greening the barriers doesn’t do anything to work away the need for them in the first place. In fact, it probably only helps cement the opposite: which is to say, masking the barriers will only probably contribute to a greater environmental acceptance of them in the long run and therefore help to sell their permanence, help to sell barriers in a more pleasant form, and thus might play into a more long term swell of Baghdad’s false sense of security, adding to negligence of pressing strategies and efforts required to truly work towards a situation where barriers no longer exist. You could argue greening the barriers might lead to greater danger in the long run, by deferral.
But, to be fair, could the these green barriers slowly replace the current ones, and if so could they help lead to a removal of all barriers in the end, which would include these same green things themselves? Maybe. But, simply substituting barriers in various forms means nothing to me.

[Images: Courtesy of Sinnoveg.]

Still, it might be interesting to dabble in what could happen if this traveling fortress-scaper gets to plant his heavy-duty strain of anti-terrorist blast trees and weave a crown of impenetrable hedges around the Green Zone.
Say, over the course of several weeks Sinnoveg rolls through Baghdad in a tight caravan of armored trucks. A couple of which are covered in thick grasses and bristling shields that go darting down the road like two giant earth covered couches on wheels in a surreal advertisement of their product.
Onboard a few are bundles of various trees stacked upon one another like a bed of precious missiles. Inside other trucks huge mattress-sized divots of crocheted foliage are hauled that will eventually be knitted together by a catalog of spooled root systems following behind them. Dozens of smaller pick-ups zip to the front and then to the back again with carpet rolls of specially grown sod and extraordinarily long and flexible coils of braided branches and treated sea kelps. Steady in the middle of the caravan military escorts move semi-transparent boxes the size of refrigerators cut for oxygen with bright green ferny tentacles ever so slightly poking through them -- they retract going over bumpy roads. The whole thing is a mysterious convoy of mobile greenhouses and nurseries scooting past Baghdad’s rubbled streets in a sunlit blur.
In no time at all dozens of crews operating remote-controlled weaver-bots with interchangeable grapplers manage to drape the entire Green Zone’s heavily fortified perimeter in a terrestrial curtain like some old school camouflage tactic. From outside the zone this mangy green wall looks like a sub-natural island rising up from the battle encrusted core of urban Baghdad. A new Emerald City. An unihabitable island. Even though some sections of T-wall are removed many simply vanish behind the dense imbrications of unraveled hedge-walls and strategically planted trees that blow and settle into place all on their own like a great curtain being shook by a invisible hand – it instantly comes to life. It’s as if a militarized wreath the size of a small city bioengineered for war is placed around the Green Zone, the only thing missing from these massive grafts of vegetation are small populations of black-chinned hummingbirds, roboticized wasps and atomic desert butterflies, a few experimental DARPA-operated tree squirrels and monkeys, and perhaps a no man’s land strip of fallen dates and olives, pistachios and kamah truffles buried under rare patches of fence grass along the outside of the tree walls’ now excessively vibrant border.
At first, everything looks hunky dory. Suddenly, a flase spring is in the air as if the Green Zone has been made a halo of photosynthetic wonder. Fragrant with intrigue of far-off gardens, the attitudes of embassy personnel and Iraqi interior working behind these lush enclosures (which have been green-guarded on both sides) are noticeably cooperative and chipper. Productivity levels spike briefly marked by the curtain’s sudden bloom. Invited by this refreshing circular arboretum everyone spends considerably more time outside sauntering along its tropical walkways where perfumes of hybridized barks and woods and floral blossoms are addictively inhaled over coffee breaks and Subway sandwiches, while the avenues the other side of the green curtain (despite being heavily patrolled) slowly fill with people from all over the city flocking to check out the Green Zone’s living security fence; it quickly becomes a very popular public attraction.
Food stalls pop up. Informal literature is distributed explaining some of the exotic horticulture. New flowers end up inside people's homes. In short, the green curtain seems to have won over everyone.
But, as months pass through an oddly schizophrenic season dredged in torrential rains, abnormal wind chills coupled with ballistic heat spells, and a particularly violent sand storm that swarms Baghdad for a week leaving thousands plagued by wretched allergies, the fertile shield continues to grow, quite wildly in some parts in fact – so much so the entire thing looks weirdly out of harmony with itself, like a gangly teenager struck by uneven growth spurts in his limbs – the project soon requires incessant pruning in order for Sinnoveg to maintain its mastery of it.

[Image: Much of central Baghdad was barely visible through a thick dust storm that blanketed Iraq's capital. Three bomb attacks killed 34 people and wounded dozens more in Iraq on Monday. Photo: Hadi Mizban/Associated Press.]

But the pruning is only good for so long. Propagating at frightening pace, the curtain first chokes off a couple key checkpoints into the Green Zone so they cannot be used again, at least until Sinnoveg’s emergency team of hedge techs can be flown in to perform serious amputations of the green wall. By the time they get there however the bulk of the hedges have grown far beyond any anticipation and Sinnoveg reluctantly admits they’re a bit unprepared to deal with the curtain’s manic growth.
Meanwhile, Baghdad hacks through an allergic disaster sneezing violently and coughing up little sacs of blood, rupturing septums with incessant snorts and clogged bellows, flinging constellations of slime everywhere from their nostrils while simmering winds keep it all astir.
Zimmermann’s hedge techs try to come out at first every month, then every week to inspect and saw away the excessive growth, but even they cannot believe their eyes. In the words of one supervisor, “the hedges have taken on more than a life of their own, they’ve gone completely mad – I think they’re possessed!” – they're no longer held in check by the harsh climate Sinnoveg anticipated making their maintenance work much easier.

They take up full-time residence in the Green Zone bunking in old US Army barracks and leftover trailers used to house American bureaucrats before those folks were shifted into blast proof apartments. But, even working 'round the clock through delirious shifts of nocturnal overtime they can’t keep the tree walls and monster hedges down. No matter how much they hack and haul away the missing volumes usually replenish within a couple of days and then grow even more. And the discarded greenery always has a way of going missing. Unless they burn it over permanent fires that emit strange fumes the piles either blow away or just “magically slip off somewhere,” one worker is overheard saying. “It’s the strangest thing. I swear this stuff slithers like a bed of snakes.”
Another employee claims to watch a set of branches cultivate more than a foot overnight prompting the installation of surveillance cameras to monitor the curtain’s late night growth cycles. But the hedges soon crush them and they become irretrievable. “The climate here is having an incredible effect on the hedges, no one ever expected them to take off like this, certainly not here,” Sinnoveg’s chief botanist says at a press conference. Not only is everything spurting uncontrollably, he goes on to explain, but the entire thing has its own intelligence of weaving itself together in far more intricate and formidable patterns than Sinnoveg’s engineers can ever dream up. Unsure of what the hell to do the engineers simply take pictures and notes.

[Image: By Paul DeCelle.]

By the end of winter most of the entry points to the Green Zone are completely stitched shut by feral vines, and Sinnoveg’s boys are more or less beaten down. Their weaver-bots working furiously in reverse all burn out. Their tools prove completely ineffective, and their ideas run abundantly low.
Soon, one by one all of the checkpoints are sealed by this creeping drapery so impromptu emergency bridges are slung over canopies extending 30 to 50 feet high in some areas, where bureaucrats climb like nauseated refugees fleeing their own compound.

With the help of the US Army Sinnoveg tries to dig a couple of tunnels below the curtain but the roots are tangled so deeply underground they are as impenetrable as the woven fences above.
Most people remain inside the zone even more than they already do for fear the hedges will grow too much in a single day and they may not be able to get back in over the makeshift bridges later. Of course, all of this prompts major security concerns and Green Zone patrols are beefed up on the highest alert while new waves of tension ripple through out the city.

Zimmermann now dangles in a thicket of bad publicity and like the Green Zone is going under fast. The Iraqi government calls in a special team of scientists to investigate the situation who immediately notices the Tigris’ River's water levels dropping frighteningly fast. Not only is the Green Zone’s new ecological upgrade completely taking over the compound but it is leaching the ancient water source in staggering amounts. More mild pandemonium sets across the city where random green parks have begun to spring up, strange patches of fresh growth in very unassuming places. Wandering gardens. Exotic alleyway flowerbeds. The city collectively sneezes.

[Image: Garbage on the Tigris By Christoph Bangert.]

Operating inside the Green Zone is a logistical nightmare made worse by the fact that to completely abandon it at this point is not even possible because there’s no way to get everyone out safely without pulling off a helicopter mission military officials say would be too dangerous because it would expose everyone to insurgent attacks.

[Image: From the lawn of the White House. Photograph: Jim Young/Reuters.]

Essentially, they're locked in. Food products and critical items are broken down into a continuous flow of smaller deliverables that have to be kept moving through a kind of stealthy aerial smuggling operation. All the while the mutant tree walls continue to grow and even change shape so they look less like walls and more like mounds leftover from ancient builders; the great wreath soon becomes a miniature mountain range ringing the Americans inside as if it were a green mustached volcano mouth. From the rest of Baghdad’s perspective, a jungly cloud has swept over the imperial zone and turned something heinously historic into an uninhabitable wild island.

[Image: Photo: Regis Duvignau/Reuters.]

Where once a space between the Embassy and its own inner ring of walls functioned as a separate layer of security or as a temporary promenade with little shops dispersed along side other outdoor spaces, the rabid hedges and sidewinding green tentacles completely consume this zone and begin to latch onto the Embassy structures themselves; in some cases baby hedges hatch from inside the buildings. Offices fill with strange mosses, hellish tufts of weeds break through concrete walls into the shiny new dining facility, the America Club is quickly mildewed by funky algaes, and the hospital turns into an oversized salad bar. Hedges soon sprout everywhere, inside closets, under diplomatic beds, the embassy becomes a Sinnoveg archive of hedges.
With their perimeter fatally compromised the US Army starts to panic about insurgents climbing over the mounds and through the haunted trees to inflict harm on the stranded embassy personnel. Yet, most of the personnel claim they are trying to escape from the zone not because they fear that sort of violence but because they feel “stalked by the green curtain.”
And there might be some truth to that. Not one supposed insurgent ever bothers to climb over this incredible concentric forest, especially not once the media announces that a couple US soldiers assigned to monitoring a temporary passage in the North West of the zone have disappeared and their bodies not yet found by the army, which of course triggers additional reports of Iraqi taxi drivers going missing near the curtain, and even some small children.
Baghdad’s violence is actually rather quiet during this whole ordeal, ironically enough. It’s simply more urgent to watch the nightly news reports or even go see firsthand these rabid and viral gardens flourish in the heart of the city and claim the compound’s brutal architecture than to think about neighborhood violence. The gardens are forcing everyone out of the Green Zone like rats from a flooded hole, and the site of this alone has Baghdad in its grips and blowing their noses.

Months grow thick and Zimmermann’s arrogant claim to make the Green Zone truly green haunts him across newspapers all over the world. But he refuses to leave and takes up a position atop a watchtower that pokes up from the center of the compound where he continues to order his scrambling mad technicians, at least those who have stuck around. At one point he instructs them to bail from their own car bombs packed with incendiary explosives at the heathen hedges, hoping this will blast through them. But the hedges are inviolable and the great curtain merely shakes the burning vehicular corpses off before consuming them. His men try everything from flamethrowers and ultrasonic weapons to high-density lasers to suppress the hyper lattice of stems and green cords cinching in on them from every angle, but only makes it all grow back and sew itself together with vengeance.

As we said, all this time the political violence stops but few notice. Instead, the Americans manage to scramble to random corners of the city waiting for airlifts to other camps in the region while a local filmmaker surveys the scene on the ground with camera crews eager to capture the final days of the main palaces of Saddam Hussein – and now the imperial bunkers of the American regime -- as they are finally ready to be overtaken by an incredible surge of nature, to be toppled by no man but millions of mice and insects and tiny birds instead that suddenly spawn to pick apart the hubris remains of Empire’s overreach before everything in the zone is completely devoured and the cradle of civilization is turned into a swath of insatiable "greenery."
For weeks Baghdad’s anxious crowds gather around the rough green edges to watch the modern fortress buried over. What seemed impossible years ago takes Baghdad by storm in just a few weeks. The film crews race around the brambly mess daring into it to get footage of the final days of the elegant marble building used by the Iraqi Governing Council before it succumbs to an army of woven knots and cables, prowling nooses, and the thuggish push of the Sinnoveg's rogue hedges.

On televisions all over people watch the verdant cocooning of tin trailers and the slow grassy ground invasions of abandoned military camps and feeble barracks wilting under the vines and being consumed overnight like worthless shelter carcasses. Lightweight tent structures and abandoned vehicles drown in thorny thickets, while an empire of sprawling kudzu ivy spreads over the entire site and covers it and roughly all 30 or so buildings in the Zone so the media begins referring to a “green blanket” rather than “the green curtain” it once used to be.

100 acres of urban space suddenly turned into an orgying jungle spiked with modern ruins; the crowned jewel of empire now a giant bomb crater filled in instantly by fresh green earth; call it a post-imperial Oz or the greatest Crack Garden ever spawned, it’s the world’s “ultimate gated community” torn down by a spontaneous green yonder.

[Image: Photo by Christoph Bangert.]

Cameras hang from balloons and relay shots of the complex’s apartment buildings and the hospital disappearing inside layers and layers of green bubble wrap, with one last blocky concrete islandtop resisting the tree lines upon which Zimmermann stands on a wobbly chair. Looking down upon the green yonder with a tormented grin, a fiendish vortex of ferny tentacles lap at the base of his pedestal. He looks out over Baghdad and sees it besmirched by wicked plots of strewn greenery now. Lilypads swell in his eyes.