• What New Regime?
  • Headlines, photo by Emily Lowry

  • What New Regime?
  • Sutro Tower, photo by Emily Lowry

  • What New Regime?
  • Overlooking Castro & Market, photo by Emily Lowry

  • What New Regime?
  • Forest Hills & Muir Peaks, photo by Emily Lowry

  • What New Regime?
  • Randall Museum, photo by Emily Lowry

A speaker on NPR [9/19/01] described the ineffectiveness of the U.S. espionage community in preventing the events of 9.11 as a “failure of imagination,” and characterized the demolition of the twin towers and the Pentagon as something “only someone from Mars” would do. This opposition between what can be imagined and the utterly unimaginable forms the foundation of the nationwide unease that is being effectively (though barely) managed by the usual circuits of liberal, conservative and marketist media representation. In my opinion this is a fundamentally xenophobic expression of our culture’s techno-biblical obsession with destruction, delivered from beyond the officially-recognized realms of possibility. The catastrophy of 9.11 fits easily into everyone’s dynamic models of the American apocalypse: race war, the wrath of God/Allah, a giant asteroid, global warming, total media saturation, a “new regime.” All these internally logical scenarios represented in our mainstream movies and theologies could not accommodate the day’s terrible actuality. People everywhere started talking crazy. About an “Inside Job”. An alliance between the ACLU, environmentalists and women who love other women. Roosting chickens. Pied pipers. Corrupt cops buried in rubble. Mossad agents on the streets of Manhattan. SF Mayor Willie Brown’s alleged advance notification. I feel that part of the uncertainty many people are feeling is derived from the experience of having our imaginations fired and glazed by a contemporary culture that is busy collapsing into the informational black hole of itself. To me, the only response to a situation that is rapidly reaching some kind of bizarre coherence as everyone’s minds (no matter what their allegiances are) begin to tick in unison is audacity: radical expression at all scales of time and space. 9.11 was a failure of the imagination on all fronts, it did not fit most minds (including my own). These same minds (including my own) desperately need continued exposure to ideas, concepts, signs and things that are not accommodated by the comfortable ruins of our dreams…

The fictional news reports that follow were written in the spirit of evoking the kind of audacity that would hopefully jolt the reader out of any media-digestion complacency they were experiencing. Now that Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” is doing satirical voice-overs for footage of Eastern Alliance troops riding pickup trucks and twenty-year-old tanks into battle, and Ashcroft is smoothly handling any fears of an emerging police state with iron-clad patriotic rhetoric, they might seem a little less audacious. The tide has risen since they were written, submerging the devastated consciousness of a nation and filling the terrible silence of utter shock with rumbling babble, sentimental soundtracks and the ultrasonic hum of Internet surveillance systems kicking in. From giant “United We Stand” billboards echoing the government murals of Cuba, to the abyssal irony of “Enduring Freedom” trading cards, these short vignettes demonstrate the inadequacy of fiction in the face of reality. Hopefully, like stumbling across a new cave painting or an unexpected specimen of neolithic tool, they will retain some historic and prophetic value in a present whose new regime is anchored in a thrift-store version of the 1950s – hipped up with a cell phone, Palm Pilot and GPS receiver.

May 16, 2004


Cellular Invasion Continues… But Not Without Snags

AFGHANISTAN. Operation Trojan Infrastructure has gone into its third consecutive month of operation in all occupied territories of Afghanistan. The Army Signal Corps continues to install microwave-powered cellular communications towers in this treacherous environment, while armed representatives from Nokia’s Special U.N. Projects Division distribute personal communicators to the local population. C-5 planes sponsored by Sony continue to land in Pakistan daily, carrying hundreds of televisions, digital video recorders and uplink dishes. According to U.S. representatives in Afghanistan, the destabilization of Taliban authority by giving away the communications tools (and images) of the West proceeds apace. Taliban operatives have been stalemated and intimidated by GPS-equipped refugees and rebels who can reach U.S. Army tactical switchboards to call in drone surveillance and, if authorized, satellite-guided rocket strikes. In response, operatives of the fundamentalist government of Afghanistan have begun to pose as peasants and women to receive free communications equipment. On several occasions, U.S. and allied forces have been lured into traps by fake distress calls. General Leslie Washington-Jacobs, head of Middle Eastern Operations Public Relations, urges members of the anti-terrorist alliance to take such occurrences in stride. “We are taking extra precautions now that the Taliban has responded with these diabolical camouflage ambushes. Responding to the flexible resistance that the Taliban has demonstrated has proven to be the greatest challenge that we have faced so far. However, we want to emphasize that Operation Trojan Infrastructure is working. As the mobile e-commerce phase of the operation comes on line in the next few weeks, we are confident that you will see the Afghan population more interested in obtaining Western conveniences than sheltering terrorists. Unlike the empty promises of previous U.S. campaigns that promised aid to freedom fighters in oppressed countries, the Afghanis can now literally call on Uncle Sam for help and he’s there for them with pinpoint accuracy.”

Cuban Broadcasts of Islamic “Coded Messages” Jammed

HAVANA. After months of formal litigation, the United Nations Communications Committee has finally secured the rights to jam the signals of repeater transmitters that broadcast Islamic cultural programming throughout much of the northern hemisphere. Hermàn Flores, the World Court representative working for Cuba’s Ministry of Telecommunications, calls the U.N. decision an outrage. In a formal press conference in Geneva, he described the negative effects this will have on Muslims in this part of the globe who “have already had all other channels to the rest of the Muslim world cut off or heavily monitored by the United States and its South American allies. The U.N. has decided to complete the strangulation of Islamic culture in the West.” Jackie Macallister, lead prosecutor, in the case declared the Islamic programming that was being amplified by Cuba “to be of a coded, potentially hazardous nature” that violates the Media Security Act of 2003. “The Castro Mafia that continues to rule Cuba should consider the harmless jamming of these transmitters to be a warning from the Global Community.” Macallister’s statements have been interpreted by some as being a threat to use the White Noise satellite system that permanently crippled all of Iraq’s telecommunications during the conflicts of early 2002. Cuban representatives are quick-appealing the decision on the grounds that all human media can be interpreted as carriers of hidden messages and that this extension of the U.S. blackout of Cuban bandwidth is a violation of sovereignity. The controversial Media Security Act was put into place to monitor and censor or outright block content that might double as activation instructions for still-dormant terrorist units in the Homeland. “The Allied forces used poetry to get around German radio surveillance during World War II. We see no reason why Islamic fundamentalists wouldn’t use similar methods, maybe in the form of religious programming or Arab news, to activate sleepers within our borders,” Macallister said. Flores maintains that Cuba has the right to broadcast any cultural content it wants.


NY Citizens Irate After 23rd Security Failure This Month

NEW YORK CITY. Hackers have once again managed to break into the city’s checkpoint system which verifies the “Patriot” chips carried by most residents. The hack causes the victim to be flagged as invalid by shifting an allegedly secure encrypted set of bits. Depending on where they are in the city the result can range from something as relatively inconvenient as “hard check” by Homeland Security officers, to automatic lockdown of the vicinity. The massive delays and occasional injuries caused by the latter occurrence compound the profile-managment burdens of the overtaxed New York Metropolitan Security System. When asked to comment on the source of these continued intrusions, American Express representative Stephen Ballory explained that “technicians are shifting the software’s security emphasis from Blue’s onboard chip to the point-of-scan verification circuits. We apologize for the inconvenience and ask that the ever-resilient population of New York bear with us while we make adjustments.” The hackers circumvented the packet-identification features of the AOLNet node that drives the NYMSS, and they remain both untraced and anonymous. “My mother was locked down in an ATM booth for three hours last night. That’s just ridiculous,” reported New Yorker Dwayne Torres. “She couldn’t have even gotten downtown in the first place if she wasn’t legit. Those Amex guys better get on the ball.” FBI investigation of the allegedly indigenous “Net Militia” groups that are plaguing the nation’s security systems continues under renewed political and economic pressures. AOLNet representatives were unavailable for comment.


Inflatable Walls Brought Down In Frisco

SAN FRANCISCO. After a 48-hour standoff, local police have finally punctured the inflatable barricades used to block off a large section of downtown, ending a three day occupation by protestors. This sixth police reclamation of spontaneously organized “free zones” is unique due to the remarkable coordination used by the protestors and the technology employed. “Last time they parked rows of cars on Market Street between 6th and 7th to make it difficult for us to get at them,” explained one riot officer who stood by as the featureless gray shape blocking Kearny Street began to sag and emit a thick stream of smoke. “This is something new.” When asked how the protestors accomplished such a feat, the officer explained that simultaneous actions elsewhere in the city stretched police manpower too thin. “You had illegal fireworks going off at Fisherman’s Wharf, an army of lowriders parked in the Geary/Fillmore underpass, a bunch of critical mass type things happening in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point area, and physical obstruction of the 16th Street BART tunnels. All this kind of stuff draws crowds of onlookers, and that makes it that much harder for us to do our job and restore order.” Apparently this decentralized action gave a group of protestors enough time to use stunt bag inflators and industrial fans to raise the walls with which they claimed the border blocks between Chinatown and the Financial District. These same fans were often used to rapidly disperse tear gas that police launched over the walls.

For two days protestors, many of whom describe themselves as radical artists, essentially threw a huge block party complete with generator-powered sound systems, wireless Internet nodes and portable toilets stolen from Mission Bay construction sites. Sometime around 2:00 AM on May 13, protestors sealed themselves behind forty-foot smoke-filled structures that were originally designed as heavy duty construction elements for deep sea research labs. Crowds of hundreds gathered in support. The launching of fireworks kept police and media helicopters at bay. Police bullets apparently disappeared into what was described by the technology’s designers as a “self-repairing internal honeycomb” structure built to withstand the immense pressures of the ocean depths. Finally, a laser from Lawrence Livermore Lab was loaned to the authorities to cut through the walls of what was called “Dream TDK City.” As Kearny Street filled with smoke, protestors streamed through gashes in the sagging walls and further complicated arrest efforts with nudity. San Francisco re-elected Mayor Frank Jordan was on hand to witness the extraction of the protestors from the riot tangles deployed across Kearny. “San Francisco will not tolerate the construction of these so-called free zones in our city,” he said. An overworked FBI is interrogating protestors and seeking leads in the specialized building industry to find out where the repurposed technology came from.

SFUSD Cracks Down On “Home Grown” Media

SAN FRANCISCO. Teachers in three high schools, one middle school and one elementary school have been suspended for what they teach in the classroom. Speaking from his home, Mr. Gordon Chan of Balboa High School explained that teaching young people how to critically engage the media is crucial in an era that has become “increasingly characterized by control of what we see and think. It’s even worse than we imagined. I teach recent immigrants who can recite the New York Rescue Worker’s pledge of allegiance and can quote the flight recorders like it was the Bible or something. I never thought I’d be penalized for teaching kids the job skills they’ll need when they graduate: editing video, composing presentations, managing streaming media, writing a good story. All these things are the base-level skills companies are looking for.” Superintendent Jason Neubauer sees the situation differently. “These are tense times, the District cannot afford to come under scrutiny for curriculum that could be mistaken as seditious. I’ve seen the California educational guidelines for digital media. Video compositing skills can be taught without simulating news broadcasts of terrorist events. Not only is it inappropriate but it gets the District involved in issues of copyright and intellectual property.” Balboa freshman Shaquana Alunen offered her own take on the matter in an interview conducted off of school grounds. “Speaking for myself? It made me appreciate how real that s**t was back in no one. I was only like nine years old they [the towers] blew up and it didn’t really hit me. Plus the rallies were fun. Now I know that it would be like waking up and seeing the Transamercia just gone, y’know? We did a hard news spot that pretended it got blew up. I did the plane animation in 3DStudio Max and my girl Shadow wrote the script for the cockpit struggle. It was tight. Now I know more about aerodynamics, your FAA, religion, crowd psychology, math s**t, post traumatic stress disorder, and… and… oh yeah, mass media manipulation. Now I can’t believe I even wore those “I remember” shirts when I was little. F**k it, free Mr. Chan y’all!”

Culture Critic Investigates So-called “Millennium Tarot”

SAN FRANCISCO. A Graduate student in the California College of Arts and Crafts program in Visual Criticism is trying to understand the runaway popularity of a network diversion that originated here in San Francisco in late 2001. "What started as this seemingly meaningless image that showed up in stickers, posters and flyers all over the city after the oh-one attack grew into a folk divination system," explains second year visual critic Pong Moss. "It started with Abdullah the little Arab kid from Tintin in the Land of Black Gold [a widely translated graphic novel by Belgian cartoonist Hergé originally published in 1950] showing up like in the old Giant/Obey campaign." The typical Abdullah image is of a brown boy with traditional Saudi head dress, with an ambiguous expression of outrage or shock. Talking about his in-progress thesis, Moss describes how "people – patriots I guess – would deface them in all sorts of sometimes creative ways. Or sometimes the image would end up part of an advertising collage of GAP, movie and car posters. I remember one where his face was in the middle of this sea of advertisements for some recalled Schwarzenegger movie called Collateral Damage. The tag line was ‘the war hits home.’ When you combine these accidents with the patriotic fever that was boiling then, people dealt with the everyday emotional impact of these compositions. Soon after, people were making critical statements by choosing specific images to align with or to partially-obscure the Abdullah images. You had portraits of WTC victims, oil company logos, pictures of Bush, all kinds of stuff in the dialogue. This happened all over the city, at different scales from walls to constellations of stickers in phone booths." Then the phenomenon moved onto the Net, drawing on the popularity of the amateur Flash and Powerpoint presentation memorials that proliferated in the wake of the 2001 disaster. By the time the "tarot" developed into a decentralized, alleged divination system, Abdullah had become a key symbol signifying a turning point. Today, a typical Millennium Tarot deck — essentially a peer-to-peer network appliance — can be obtained from the Nets for free, allowing the user to not only tap into the images that other peoples’ decks have gathered, but into the material expression of users who continue to plaster the city’s walls with tarot-related imagery. "No matter how you read Abdullah, as a devil or a saint, or a trickster or a victim, you have to realize that a major new life decision-making system was born on the walls of San Francisco," said Moss. "It wasn’t part of some avant-garde art movement, and it wasn’t inherently political. We might not ever know who started it."


— David Goldberg is a writer, teacher, technologist and artist who has been working along the borders of media, technology and culture for fifteen years. He has designed and co-designed curricula and production environments for schools, museums and special events including the French American International School, the Smithsonian, ZEUM, Siggraph, Balboa High School, the San Francisco Art Institute, the Exploratorium, SFMOMA, the DeYoung Museum, and Mills College. He has also been involved in the production of interactive audio-visual texts as a member of the mind-crushing dub thing called Bucolic (and it's portable spin-off BucolicDJ), a co-founder and developer of the Beta Lounge (one of the Net's oldest and last independent webcasts), and an internationally-distributed record player under the name mr. bollweevil. Such art has been shown/dealth with at Southern Exposure Gallery, the San Francisco Art Institute, the Exploratorium, SFMOMA, the DeYoung Museum, and CCAC. He is currently a MA candidate in CCAC's program in Visual Criticism.