Monday, 20 February 2012

The Ticking of a "Vast Liquid Clock"

After seeing James Marriott’s on camera delivery in Burning Capital of a version of this I always remind myself every time I travel by jet of the “vast liquid clock” that all airline industries are dependent on:

The liquid clock takes under ten days to run its course. Ten days for the oil to move from 8,000 feet below sea level to 31,000 feet above sea level. Ten days for liquid rocks to melt into air. Ten days for geology laid down 57 million years ago to be incinerated into gas.

And it was my Emirates 14-hour ultra-long-haul flight from Dubai to Sydney that provided me with a ready-made pulse for dipping in and out of thoughts about this liquid clock – the instrumental piece "Tick of the Clock" by the Chromatics. Seated near the engine I sleepily absorbed the in-flight movie Drive whose opening scenes use “Tick of the Clock”. But as Jeffrey Edberg points out in his Frontier Psychiatrist review of Drive’s soundtrack, the original "15 minute techno slow-burn from the [Chromatics’] album Night Drive is whittled down to 5 minutes on the soundtrack, looped and timed effectively to match the film’s quietly mounted action”. So for all economy class flyers on long-haul flights and throughput analysts working on liquid clocks I dedicate the next 15 minutes to you

Occupy Rape Culture

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Nukemap: see what would happen if your town or city had a nuclear bomb dropped on it

After trivial rumors have surfaced about the belligerents of "the forever war"--was Osama bin Laden, as reported, really obsessed by the B-52s track "Rock Lobster", and did he have a fetish for Whitney Houston to the point where he dreamt of kidnapping her and killing Bobby Brown?--it's reassuring to know that we have the means at our disposal to learn about more far-reaching consequences: Alex Wellerstein has devised a very clever way for us to envision what happens when nuclear weapons are deployed. You can use his Nukemap to select the size of the bomb and where it would be detonated, then see the blast radius on a Google map. I just dropped a 16kt bomb on my parents' home town i.e. the same size as the "Little Boy" used on Hiroshima. In addition to the map, I was offered the following information:

Note that you can drag the target marker after you have detonated the nuke.
Effects radii for 16 kt blast (smallest to largest):
Fireball radius: 0.09 km / 0.06 mi
Maximum size of the nuclear fireball; relevance to lived effects depends on height of detonation.
Air blast radius: 0.7 km / 0.43 mi
20 psi overpressure; heavily built concrete buildings are severely damaged or demolished; fatalities approach 100%.
Radiation radius: 1.42 km / 0.88 mi
500 rem radiation dose; between 50% and 90% mortality from acute effects alone; dying takes between several hours and several weeks.
Air blast radius: 1.85 km / 1.15 mi
4.6 psi overpressure; most buildings collapse; injuries universal, fatalities widespread.
Thermal radiation radius: 2.14 km / 1.33 mi
Third-degree burns to all exposed skin; starts fires in flammable materials, contributes to firestorm if large enough.
"A convenient rule of thumb for estimating the short-term fatalities from all causes due to a nuclear attack is to count everyone inside the 5 psi blast overpressure contour around the hypocenter as a fatality. In reality, substantial numbers of people inside the contour will survive and substantial numbers outside the contour will die, but the assumption is that these two groups will be roughly equal in size and balance out. This completely ignores any possible fallout effects." (Carey Sublette)

What I'll do next is drop a 100Mt on the same location for a comparison. It would be a frightening, but worthwhile exercise, to then program the coordinates of the differing effects radii into a portable device, so when moving between them you would have a reminder of which zone you had left/were moving into. Now that's what I call "bringing it all home". Before trying it yourself though, I recommend watching this video about the 100Mt "Tsar Bomba" as another way to visualise the kind of destructive capacity that could end all life as we know it on planet Earth. There are things you can do about them.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Habeas Corpses: When the Forever War Turns Society Into a Gigantic Privatized Prison....

I've been thinking about The Forever War so much that it's triggering all kinds of associations. I'm imagining variations on the dystopic Earth described in the middle section of the book.

For example, incredible imagery from the beginning of the game Half Life 2 flashes through my mind in the darkness while listening to the album I'll Sleep When You're Dead. Picture this: the cattle train transporting you and your fellow prisoners has just rolled into the heart of the black citadel. The door slides open and you and the rest of the chain gang step out onto the asphalt in single file. You nervously raise your manacled hands in an attempt to shield your eyes from the blinding spotlight that seems to hit you out of nowhere and makes you feel totally exposed. You're the first in line, so you do your best to squint so you can see where you're supposed to go next. There's a helicopter circling above you, which makes it impossible to distinguish the harsh commands ringing in your ears from the nearby loudspeakers. However, you can make out the silhouettes of  a group of men standing in front of you. One of them is beckoning you. You take a few tentative steps towards him but then freeze up with a sharp intake of breath: the black silhouetted figures are holding nightsticks, so it looks like the reception committee will be forcing you to run the gauntlet.

You can also now see the uniforms and impassive masks worn by your captors, and in this moment you experience a great blackness rushing through the very core of your being, leaving only a sense that you are now totally owned and that no one will ever be able to help you. A shadow falls across your face as your eyes follow the hand wielding a nightstick that has raised above your head. You brace yourself for the blows you know will now surely come. But then, in that split-millisecond, you hit upon the role-reversal fantasy that you desperately hope will sustain you during the dark solitary years that lie ahead.

 It took no time at all then for you to start imagining what you would do if you stood on the other side of the line. Exactly two minutes in fact. And from that day forth you dedicated yourself to finding love on a prison ship... 

"I found love on a prison ship..." {X5}

"Number 247681-Z, step to the line"


Two types of people in this world to recognize
Conquered, and the one holding the rifle at the next in line
The crosshair in my eye is a vessel to god
The container that kept you around is in a hole in the yard

Sail the cemetery seas, half the crew leaves then move on
You have no idea how right my head is screwed on
When I wake up and put this suit on, I feel escape begin
Expirations are needed, I facilitate the end

There are two types of mornings/mournings in this life I can surmise
I wake early in the first to help supply the second type
Technician of repetition clips in the numbest of traditions its
The little wondrous blunders that can summon one's demise

I know the line to walk, talk softly, punch a clock, aim (pow) done
I see the shelter in contrition, best to limit wagging tongues
But today's a confrontation with a thought that's not assured
She's inching closer to my services and further from my world

"I found love on a prison ship..." {X8}

Does this job ever bother you, darkly creep up in your conscious too?

Nope, in fact I'm so enamored with the standard
of being handed a command to (pow), it's almost romantic
The lead giveth, I take it, if I didn't understand it

I'm saying during the tenure of your gig, have you ever herded a pris
Who despite the traitorous label, makes you nervous as a kid?
Maybe beyond a date with the lead, there's something else meant for
A prisoner with the beauty of 247290-Z

Oh God, you gotta be joking, I get it she's smoking
Go get a taste, I'll hold you down for thirty, she must be purty, you're open
Your secret's safe with me, go on a raping spree
I gotta couple numbers of my own, just return the courtesy

No, nah man, that's actually not on my mind
Somehow its different this time. I mean
Should a creature so sublime and young really be in line for the gun
And am I the one to dispense it? She seems almost defenseless
And her eyes have the surprising effect of rendering me restless

"You know, you look really pretty without handcuffs on
Without the dirt on your face..."

Like the piss and stench of the huddled traitors evaporates from the room
And in that moment I can see her truly, and she can see me too
Beneath the body armor and weaponry, my heart quietly thumps and whispers
"Drop the guns and grab her, now's the time to make your run"

Sitting in my transport as we slip through traffic veins
She doesn't ask me where we're going, only holds my hand and gaze
She's my only reason now, and my only hope to live
We pull up to the cabin way above this damn metropolis

Me and prisoner 247290-Z
Somewhere that is Soilent Green, we're living life instead
No more war on traitorism, only me and her
She can clean my gun and I could help her clean the floor

Back to something natural, we'll live off of the land
When Radon levels drop we walk the trails and talk and laugh
I tell her she's innocent, and she'll show me she's not
I kiss the number on her arm and lay her on the cot

I'm the first to touch her without gloves on
She's the first to kiss me without crying
Life before this was just dying
Me and prisoner 247290-Z
Away from all this violence, live inside each other's heads... (repeating X4)

"Number 247290-Zed, step to the line"

"Dammit Lindt, fire your weapon!"

"Yes sir"


"I found love on a prison ship..." {X7}

"She's dead Lindt, just how we wanted it. Great."
"Just how we wanted it (laughing)"
"You shot the shit out of her Lindt. I'm proud of you. Go home"

--(El-P Habeas Corpses [Draconian Love] lyrics)

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Forever War

Busy right now doing a lot of stuff for Japanese academics and students, so no real time to post anything. I get such bad repetitive strain injury sometimes in my wrists, fingers etc, combined with headaches from being forced to stare at a computer screen for such extended periods, that I can't force myself to blog with the same regularity as before.

Be this as it may, I've just finished reading Joe Haldeman's The Forever War and found it so powerful that I feel obliged to take the time to blog something about it: a chill ran down my spine in the section where the veteran returns to Earth and finds life there so miserable, not least because his accumulated pension fund and savings can't sustain a decent living, that he decides it is preferable to return to combat. A critical point here is that, at least before "the fog of war" sets in, jingoism can simplify a soldier's involvement and choices for survival into such Manichean terms that there is no felt need to question one's involvement. The trauma of how meaningless it all is hits later. For another superb treatment of this theme, I recommend trawling through the archives of this blog to find Hans Joas's piece on violence and contingency (which he emailed to me several years ago). Likewise, Haldeman demonstrates the insidious nature of the process back on the homefront, where the veteran starts to feel like an alien. For some the solidarity of a small "band of brothers and sisters" provided by a combat unit, which has to be based on trust to ensure its survival, is apparently preferable to the death from a thousand cuts that results from the anomie of everyday existence under liberal capitalism.

 Eerily enough, subsequent to publication of Haldeman's book, it becomes all too easy to find devious politicians who are willing to blur these lines further by resorting to "battlefield nationalism". In Australia, for example, this has meant celebrating "the ANZAC spirit": as neoliberal policies under the Howard Government attempted to convert everyday life into a forever war through tactics such as removing the "unfair dismissal" law from workplace agreements, Australians were constantly reminded of the sacrifices that needed to be made for the greater (ahem) good. It was particularly amusing when this fanatically doctrinaire revisionist historiography would backfire on them, like when a besieged minister Brendan Nelson complained bitterly that "politically correct" teachers were hampering nation building, and that this could be rectified by instead teaching students about the legacy of "Simpson and his donkey"--i.e. a soldier who had bravely risked his own life to save his fallen comrades by carrying them from the Gallipoli battlefield on a donkey. The inconvenient truth for Nelson was that Simpson had been a dedicated communist, so the motivations for his actions didn't exactly do wonders for the agenda of the Australian Liberal Party.

My earlier reference to Durkheim by way of anomie was therefore quite deliberate, as battlefield nationalism proves that even individualizing ideologies need to be ritually consecrated into forms of collective effervescence before they can be used to promote "the national interest".

Hopefully also in the same spirit as Joe Haldeman, I'm posting a couple of pics here to remind us of why we should prevent a forever war from taking hold.