Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The structure of security, a look at Northern Ireland's past

Image of a faithful photographic reproduction of an original two-dimensional work of art. The Original artwork is an engraving entitle 'A View of the Giant's Causeway: East Prospect.' dated 1768 and produced by Susanna Drury (1698-1770). The original is found at the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering, and Technology. This image was sourced from the Wikimedia Commons and is in good faith presumed to be a public domain image.Dear Gentle Reader,

After Monday's visual post on institutional enforcement mechanisms of the social contract in China, I thought it only fair and reasonable to recall a similar example from the West, and maybe raise a few topics more explicitly, though tangentially.

It was a dark night, in 1988, that I arrived in Belfast.

I had been cycling and hiking around Ireland and Northern Ireland with my girlfriend after a sojourn in Egypt.

Sometimes, in Ireland, it was a challenge to have an English girlfriend, but Popsy was not only lovely, she was my interpreter.

While, allegedly, everyone spoke English, many of the dialects and accents were too thick to fit comfortably into my tiny ears, accustomed as they were to the certain, known accents of General American and of California, broadcast through the air into all of our homes in the USA and in Canada.

Popsy and I had been cycling around, and across, Ireland for a numbler of days. (A numbler is too many to count, especially when it is raining, Irish style--up too, not just down or sideways.)

We had had trepidation about going to Northern Ireland because of the news footage of The Troubles that we had both grown up with, on both sides of the Atlantic, but if you were going to circumnavigate the entire island, you could not avoid Northern Ireland.

We had entered Northern Ireland via Londonderry/Derry (depending upon your regime perspective) a few nights before and we had both been surprised by the arrival maze, the structure for imposing order, and trying to create security, at the entrance to the city.

The arrival maze was a chain-link fence, extending ten feet or so above our heads, where armed soldiers stood on a platform, looking down upon us.

Those elevated soldiers, and others, at face level, protected by bullet-proof glass, scrutinized us for suspicious behaviour or gait or packages or something.

Those soldiers determined who was allowed admittance (definitely to Londonderry only, not to Derry)--and who was shunted off for further inspection and possible detention.

The maze forced you into a serpentine, single-file line and was clearly designed to funnel, channel, control, and regulate large crowds.

For us, however, it was a momentary experience; we arrived in the middle of the afternoon with zero people in the chain-queue and we were through it in a trice.

We were through it so fast that it left just a wisp of a wondering memory. The soldiers, though intimidating, were soon forgotten, like Irish faeryfolk.

It was soon obvious, to us, that that maze was simply some institutional stickiness; a holdover from "The Troubles" that no one had bothered to dismantle or that vested interests wanted to keep to justify security expenditures.

It was obviously a holdover because, as we cycled gaily and drank our way across the Gaelic Northern Coast, we saw no sign of The Troubles.

Within a day, the majuscule Troubles had been downgraded to merely the troubles, a minuscule memory of prior strife and attempted insurrection.

Obviously reason and rationality and common humanity had won out, we decided, but the Press wouldn't let good stories like death and despair drop.

The people we met were uniformly cheerful and welcoming and the villages had a ruddy, wholesome, vivacious appeal.

And, helpfully, we never received any snarky comments, or muttered threats, or curses, about Popsy's obvious Southern English accent and origins.

Wind ruffled hair, but nationalism no longer seemed to ruffle feathers, or concerns, in the Northern Ireland which we discovered.

We skipped from one hexagonal chunk of columnar basalt to the next along the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim and sang taunts to Fionn mac Cumhaill (transliterated to Finn McCool for those with no Gaelic blood in their tongues or their ears), daring him to arise from slumber to test skills with us.

Geologists will tell you that the Giant's Causeway is composed of columnar basalt, specifically igneous basalt (one type of lava), which has cooled quickly, usually as it jetted up from the hot centre of the earth into water.

Mythologists will tell you that the subject of the infamous (in Gaelic myths) Fiannaidheacht, the cycle of myths relating to Fionn mac Cumhaill, threw rocks violently into the harbour, making a pathway to Scotland for a multiplicity of reasons.

Maybe the causeway, later destroyed, was built to have a tussle with a Scottish giant, maybe to provide security for Fionn mac Cumhaill's mythical Irish state from Scottish giant aggression, maybe to facilitate a crossing to Scotland and staying dry the whole while, maybe for an amorous adventure...

Who knows? We tried awakening Fionn mac Cumhaill to challenge him to a duel, the loser having to answer questions truthfully.

Fionn didn't respond to our taunts and we were unable to reduce multiple possible answers to a single truth.

Having played Gaelic football, hurling (an Irish, martial combination of hockey and lacrosse), and engaged in general mayhem in Irish bars with Irishmen and Irishwomen, around the world, I have come to accept that Gaelic answers tend to be multiple, which is wise to know, especially if you offer to buy a round.

"You're buying a round of pints, Chris? I'll take three..." (!)

But, back to that trip. Popsy's right knee had been giving her trouble throughout our Irish expedition.

For four hours of one day I had cycled behind her and would grab her seat (usually the bike's, for clarity) and would sling her and her bike forward as her knee was swollen and too painful to pedal.

Hiking along the Giant's causeway, Popsy started to get twinges in her knee, again, and for the jaunt down to Belfast I suggested that we pack up the hired bikes and take the bus, a suggestion that was accepted with alacrity and relief.

While the bus stopped at some pubs, for liquid relief, prior to entering Belfast, the bus had made no special security stop on entering Belfast itself.

We just coasted into downtown Belfast, alighted from our coach, and fished our bikes and bags from the bowels of the bus.

Well, I fished the bikes and bags out of the belly of the beast.

Popsy stamped her feet against the night's chill and leafed through the guidebook for recommendations on cheap places to stay while I mantled (the opposite of dismantled, no?) our bikes.

And then we set off.

As I said, in the very beginning, it was a dark night when we entered Belfast.

There was a crescent moon hanging in the air, a huge abyss of blackness broken at ground level by weak street lights, and a thin film of wet fog hugged the ground and sniffed, wet and limp, around our ankles and buttocks like an old dog.

Leaving the bus station, we were surprised by another maze, just as in Londonderry/Derry, and here it was a bit of a problem getting our bikes through this maze.

We had to roll our bikes vertically through this maze, on back tires alone, as the walls of this maze were closer, tighter.

This was awkward, as our panniers, or bike bags, were not meant to be suspended at this angle, but, it was night, and the chain-queue was empty.

True, the soldiers seemed surly, but we, again, were through in a trice, as we had been before, the first time we had encountered this maze system.

And, erasing the momentary discomfort of the soldiers' rough scrutiny, straight in front of us was Belfast's baroque revival City Hall, standing proud in the centre of Donegall Square.

We were incredibly fortunate because we had the view of the grand structure floating on the ground-hugging fog all to ourselves; there appeared to be nobody else around.

There were not even any cars.

The city was preternaturally quiet and still and beautiful.

Except for the kids standing still with green glowsticks that I could now make out through the ground-level mist.

There appeared to be a line of kids on both sides of the street, Gothic kids, perhaps, in black, who were hard to make out, but they all seemed to have green glowsticks or something.

Maybe they were Druids, I thought, hopefully.

Had we stumbled on some archaic, once-a-year druidic festival in Belfast?

Excited, I turned to ask Popsy about it, and whether we could ride our bikes now, and to ask her how her knee was, when I noticed the green dots on her chest.

And then I looked down and saw green dots on my own chest.

Popsy looked slightly ashen and told me to keep walking.

She said we had to get through the Square to get to the hotel which she had found in the guide book and had phoned from the bus station.

As we approached the line of stationary Goth kids I realized (a) that I really did need glasses and (b) that these were neither Goths nor Druids.

These kids in black were all elite SAS soldiers with hard eyes, big shoulders, and still adam's apples.

Further, they were all in full flak gear.

With military rifles.

Rifles raised, and ready.

With green laser sights.

And green night scopes.

And fingers on the triggers...

As we approached the column of men on Donegal Square the cluster of green dots on each of our chests reduced to one, one for each us, fixed upon our hearts.

As we walked by the column of men on our side of the street, through the silent, otherwise deserted square, one set of soldiers would train their weapons, and green laser sights, on our chests.

The first set of soldiers would continue aiming their laser sights, and hence their military assault rifles, at our chests as we walked by them.

These soldiers would only remove their aim from our chests, and return to aiming at non-existent oncoming traffic, when the next set of soldiers had trained their weapons, and green laser sights, on our chests.

They were avoiding each other's line of fire, while keeping us covered at all times.

When there were two green laser sights on my chest, at each laser sight handover, I swear I could feel the hot threat directly on the meat of my heart.

It was a physically sobering walk.

The effects of the Guinness, from the last stop of the bus prior to Belfast, left our minds rapidly as an adrenaline cocktail raced through our bodies, purging impediments to our fight or flight instince.

We fought the adrenaline and tried to stay calm, although we did walk much faster when we were through the cordon sanitaire and on our way to our hotel.

Later, that night, safely at our hotel, we were serenaded to sleep by the not-distant-at-all percussionary whumps of bombs.

Enforcement mechanisms frequently have their reasons.

It is the justification, and the triggers, and, potenially, the proportionality of enforcement mechanisms that are tricky and worthy of serious consideration.

Enforcement mechanisms, as security structures in societies, are found everywhere, and in every form of State, although Monday's and today's posts are more of the in-your-face variety.

Most discussions around rights revolve around the personal, civil rights of the citizenry, and the obligations of the State to its citizenry.

Sometimes those discussions stray into the obligations of the citizenry, in return for the rights they enjoy.

Rarely, however, do those discussions, consider the rights which the state reserves to itself, and what the manifestations of those rights can look like, unless the discussion is a diatribe.

Maybe the British government was justified in the soldier's response that night, and many other nights.

Bombs went off.

People died and property was destroyed there, and in England, and the carnage had been ongoing for decades.

Reasonable men and women, ignoring the unreasonable ones, have come to very different conclusions on the neccessity or reasonableness of English actions in Northern Island.

The War Measures Act was imposed, in peacetime, in Canada in 1970--a country frequently seen as paragon of virtuous civil society.

And there are the displays of state force in China.

Nothing is necessarily black and white, however, especially when considering the architecture, or structure, of security operations and apparatus.

Analysis and contemplation are always required.

That I leave to you, Gentle Reader, and I know that I leave it in good hands and minds.

I simply advocate a good look around, even if it is only while judiciously leaving a site.

I generally feel secure about a structure only when I understand its makeup, its rationale, and its footprint.


Monday, July 20, 2009

One perspective on the pyschological landscape of Modern China

Image of Mao Ze Dong from Lijiang, Yunnan Province, China.Dear Gentle Reader,

The social contract in modern China is something like this:

We, the State, provide you, the Worker, with the privilege of the opportunity to make more money; we grant you economic liberties.

In return, you, the Worker, agree to not seek other liberties, or to cause unrest which would perturb the equanimity of the State.

Chinese people, the Workers, have largely accepted and signed onto this social contract in modern China.

And, all good contracts need enforcement clauses.

The following are images that one sees if one dips off the tourist routes onto the locals' pathways, onto the traveller's routes.

Apart from troubled regions, where the social compact appears to be crumbling, or where parties feel that the other side's fulfillment of the bargain has not been maintained, these images are not intended as a show of force per se; they are intended as a reminder of the potential enforcement mechanism, should it be required.

Image of a heavily armed PLA (People's Liberation Army) solider.

Image of a naval team found in Shenzhen's domestic air terminal, Guangdong Province, China.Image of a PLA special forces unit in China.
Image of the symbol of a military garrison located in the centre of a major tourist destination in China.

Image of regular People's Liberation Army soldiers going to daily guarding duties in Yunnan Province, China.

Image of the State, China.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An art surprise this morning

Image of a postmark from the USADear Gentle Reader,

As you know, the Heroine, and your humble scribe, plus a father and a family friend, all returned from an outing in Yunnan Province, China, recently.

This morning the concierge brought up a parcel which had arrived in our absence...

It was covered in cryptic markings...

Image of a monkey.

Like these..

Image of a drum, bang bang.

Image of a sitting dog and a 'walk' sign.Image of a NYC taxi cab

And then these two symbols followed...

Image of the King, Elvis

Image of a dragon

There were many more cryptic picto-images, but this one I understood...

Image of the words 'TO CHRIS' on the package
So I opened up the mysterious box...

..and it contains two paintings, obverse and reverse, on a wooden board, by Ben Marlan!

The reverse image is in the theme of a "State of Being" art show that Ben Marlan recently put on, and the obverse image, shown below, was one that Ben was working on as part of his performance art lived blog experience that he is experimenting with.

Because the board is painted on both sides, I am loathe to lie it flat to take a great picture of it, but here is one that I have taken of the obverse, or face, image.

Image of a painting by Ben Marlan
Ben, this piece looks grand.

Thank you very much.

This piece will be making a trip into China, this weekend, to be framed.

I will post post both sides when they are protected by a frame and the textured surface won't be damaged.

Thank you, Ben, and thank you, everyone for your kind comments.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Architectural aspects in a state of police, if not in a police state...

Image of a shoot tied in a knot.Dear Gentle Reader,

The police state bit comes lower down in today's post.

Bear with me, please.

I am still a bit tied up in knots (the Heroine sends her love, though, as seen in the picture) and I will explain my recent e-absence.

First, the Heroine and your humble scribe are back in town.

That is a blurry Heroine in the background.

She is all smiles, as you can see from the photograph.

I am still all grimaces.

Sorry for the delays; I have no recollection of typing up that haiku after surgery a couple of weeks ago--I wouldn't normally post about that stuff.

Surgery, that is. It seems to me that nobody else would be interested.

But, I don't know why, but some of you seem to want some info.

Yes, I have just received your emails.

Thank you very much for your concern.


Some complications set in after I wrote haiku under the influence and out of consciousness.

The surgery was simply a highly invasive checkup (45 internal biopsies! Plus extra things!), but it wasn't that big a deal.

The bad things the specialists feared were not found.

They (the specialists) just couldn't explain what they did find.

All is neither better nor worse, and I am relatively happy with the status quo.

Things, after all, could be much blacker.

For the politically correct legions out there, black has been correlated with the opposite of life, goodness and health in every major religion and mythology that I am aware of, including most African mythologies and religions.

I do use the word most, because, of course, there is one great exception which is also located on the African continent.

That exception, of course, is found in the resident Gods of the mythologies of Egypt, particularly of the lower Nile (the region around Cairo and Alexandria).

There, the black banks of the Nile yielded fecundity and fertility and life.

Benevolent Hor, or Horus, the sky God, is black and his opposite, his nemesis, is Seth.

Seth is red and, throughout the Egyptian Empire, red was associated with the burning, inhospitable sands bordering the life-giving black banks of the Nile.

Anyway, enough self-justification for saying that things could be blacker.

There is much life flowing through your humble scribe, and I am not in denial.

From your perspective, no worries, I am back in the e-saddle and looking forward to both e-writing and e-reading.

So, seeing as how the doctors found nothing particularly vile and unpleasant to tell me, merely unfortunate and importune news, off we all went to China as we had previously decided to take my Dad and another house guest to Yunnan Province, China.

Let me tell you, though, just in case you might not have suspected it... recuperating from surgery during a cross-country jaunt in rural China is not exactly restful.

Also, I would have posted from China, but even when I found Internet access, I could not access my blogger account.

I had no idea why, at the time.

Now that we are out of China, and know all that is happening in Xinjiang, we know why I couldn't access my accounts.

Maybe I will post at some point in time on past trips into Xinjiang.

Lovely part of China.

Lovely people.

Fearsome repression, and that was in the police state that existed in Xinjiang then...

I shudder to imagine it now.

Being back in Hong Kong, now, I am meditating a bit on the nature of the police state. I might well start posting, but my natural reticence is still high with regards to China.

My thoughts did stray, however, to the nature of civil liberties and police states in other places.

Where did my thoughts stray?

Well, I thought of the degree of e-invasion of official, state-installed, closed-circuit cameras in "good, old England".

England, of course, once released a black slave held on an American trading ship which merely docked in an English port.

This, of course, was after England finally criminalised slavery.

The judge freed the slave as he had been in a safe harbour and he determined that England's freedoms had attached themselves to the slave and had transformed the slave into a free man.

Great concern had been raised, during the trial, regarding the international repercussions of the freeing of a person that was seen as a thing, specifically a person seen as an American chattel stored continuously on the vessel flying the flag of a sovereign state, the American flag.

Despite the dire warnings and imprecations delivered through the defense trial lawyer, the judge said, in his decision, "fiat justitia ruat coelum". Translated from Latin the judge said "let justice be done though the heavens (or the sky) may fall".

The power of civil liberties, then, in England, were such that those civil liberties would accrue to a poor, huddled misery that was a man held in indentured slavery. Further, those civil liberties released his shackles.

Now, those same civil liberties have been sacrificed on an e-altar of security, safety, and video surveillance cabling.

That is one architectural illustration of a state of police, if not a police state.

The architectural element here is, of course, the closed circuit television camera.

Another architectural element found in a state of police, albeit more metaphorical, would be the structural wood in the American edifice of criminal justice.

Wood from the forbidden tree.

The famous caveat to the use of evidence gathered by the state in criminal prosecutions via illegal search and seizure law, in the United States of America, is the use of the fruit of the forbidden tree.

This relates to the state's inability to use, in court proceedings, evidence, or fruit, which was unlawfully obtained--which came from a forbidden tree.

This exclusionary doctrine was first developed in Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385, 40 S. Ct. 182, 64 L. Ed. 319 (1920) and was fleshed out, with the famous "fruit of the forbidden tree" tag line, in Nardone v. United States, 308 U.S. 338, 60 S. Ct. 266, 84 L. Ed. 307 (1939).

But, metaphorical architectural elements do not produce good pictures, except maybe in the mind's eye.

So, finally, and still shying away from China, which actually is a police state, and its use of force in Xinjiang, I think of home, today.

Hong Kong...
Image of a concrete turret in Hong Kong.
Wherever this is, it certainly looks well fortified.

This image comes from Stanley Village on the backside of Hong Kong Island.

This image is repeated at each corner of the Stanley police office...

Image of the Stanley Police Office, Hong Kong.Many police stations in Hong Kong are this fortified.

One does not just enter a police station, here, to make a complaint or to bring cookies.

Presumably there is a reason for these extra architectural pillbox/garret/turret elements...

And Hong Kong is not a police state.

Although it does have a lot of police, and a lot of quasi-police in various other branches of the state, and a lot of state-sanctioned closed-circuit television cameras.

And, Hong Kong also has a lot of private security...

Group 4 Securicor, a private security company, has over 4,700 security officers in Hong Kong and there are about 900 other licenses issued in Hong Kong for other private security companies...

Anyway, those are some architectural details (cameras, metaphorical wood, and fortified garrets) found in states of police, if not police states.

In absolute police states one just sees things like this...

Image of a tank...
While these mobile units are not architectural aspects, per se, they make very short work of architectural units. Even Hong Kong garrets.

And dissent, too.

Tschuess, all.

PS. That previous post on the signal tower in Hong Kong? That was just a draft I had started to work on, and it went up without any further input from me. Sorry about that one, folks, it was still to be worked on and escaped from the lab...