Friday, December 24, 2010

normalizing catastrophe

Normalizing Catastrophe: Cancun as Laboratory of the Future  
by Eddie Yuen

Sixty-five million years ago, an asteroid crashed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and rendered extinct 70% of all life on Earth. In December of 2010 in Cancun, a mere geological stone's throw from the Chicxulub crater that ended the reign of the dinosaurs, a conclave of political and corporate leaders presided over a conference that failed to slow down the next great extinction event on this planet.

But for this geographic coincidence it's unlikely that this conference will be remembered as anything more than another tedious and predictable step towards a future of managed climate chaos and accelerated global enclosures. Cancun is most significant, though, not as the scene of a crime but as a laboratory of climate apartheid. Whatever fearsome predation the Yucatan of the late Cretaceous may have harbored, the Cancun of the early Anthropocene is the model of a naturalized social order even redder in tooth and claw. Even to use the language of "climate talks" is like speaking of the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. As linguist Noam Chomsky said years ago, the mere utterance of this phrase validates the discourse that there is such a process.

This particular conference, rightfully overshadowed by the Wikileaks saga, was both anti-climactic and anti-climatic, in the words of Laura Carlson, director of the American Policy Program in Mexico City. The Indigenous Environmental Network summed it up nicely: "The Cancun Agreements are not the result of an informed and open consensus process, but the consequence of an ongoing US diplomatic offensive of backroom deals, arm-twisting and bribery that targeted nations in opposition to the Copenhagen Accord during the months leading up to the COP-16 talks".

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

the long night

The Long Night
by Iain Boal
Winter Solstice 2010

4.30 AM, BERKELEY---Later today, in the hours between total lunar eclipse and the longest night, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be discussing an Order (drafted by its chairman and Obama appointee) which spells the end of the internet as a common carrier, and will allow "paid prioritization" by big capitalist firms. We have lived through the opening military-socialist phase of the planetary telecommmunications system, whose infrastructure required public subvention and state action far beyond the ability of private capitals - cold war computing and informatics, Pentagon ballistics and telemetry, DoD funded materials science, rocketry and satellite R & D, eminent domain and state seizures as necessary, etc. Now Big Telecom is poised and the electromagnetic enclosures are beginning in earnest; the camel's nose is the (de)regulation of the internet in its etherial mode, the so-called "mobile services". 

The opinion of the mass of commoners counts for nought, and the silent compliance of public servants and officials is at this stage a given, as when in 1800 the seizure of the commons could be completed, no longer in "letters of blood and fire", but with the stroke of the pen in Parliament by means of private members' Bills of Enclosure. In 2010 it takes a comedian-turned-US senator, aghast at the idea of Comcast customers being blocked from Netflix, to describe the prospects: 

"Internet service giants like Comcast and Verizon want to offer premium and privileged access to the Internet for corporations who can afford to pay for it...For many Americans - particularly those who live in rural areas - the future of the Internet lies in mobile services. But the draft Order would effectively permit Internet providers to block lawful content, applications, and devices on mobile Internet connections. Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn't nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).

Monday, December 20, 2010

holmes on paglen

Visiting the Planetarium
Images of the Black World

by Brian Holmes

Clouds, fields, forests, country roads, empty skies: the video image shows you a landscape seen at random, or for purposes utterly unknown. Its shifting perspectives appear through the visual overlay of a targeting system, controlled by a distant operator. This is a drone’s eye view. The signal was captured from a satellite transmission, maybe intended for Creech Air Base, Nevada. We see a date and a local time, but the position remains blank—it could be in Kosovo or elsewhere in southern Europe. There’s something hesitant, furtive or even lost about the way the drone is scanning through the territory. Suddenly a large wall clock flashes up on the screen. Its face is emblazoned with a dragon-winged creature, threatening and strange, but typical of the emblems used by Air Force reconnaissance teams. Is it supposed to mark a significant moment, a planned operation, a hit? More likely it’s the cypher of some airman’s utter boredom, alone in a cubicle, glued to a monitor, staring at meaningless foreign landscapes whose very banality has become part of the secret.
The video was given to Trevor Paglen by one of his collaborators—people who are intensely curious about what goes on in the restricted zones of the Pentagon’s “black world.” It was then edited and folded into a larger body of work, to be shown in galleries and museums. Thus it has the status of a clue, an index, rather than a document strictly speaking. It points to a set of pressing questions that involve the uses of vision, the potentials of art and the bases of sovereignty. These questions coalesce around a major paradox: the existence of a secret world that is increasingly palpable, increasingly present. Why has the invisible become so banal, why does it crop up everywhere? Paglen does not answer individually. Instead, he seems intent on exploring — and, to whatever degree possible, on reversing — the social conditions of perception that allow multibillion-dollar weapons systems and vast clandestine intelligence networks to “hide” in the broad daylight of a democracy that is also an empire.