Happy Mother's Day


[03/05/2009 1:58:39 PM]

sportsbabel says: please say thanks to your mom……!
sportsbabel says: you are our relation……
sportsbabel says: (smiley)

[03/05/2009 1:58:55 PM]

A Springtime Love Letter to RECL 4P21


Don't wait to be told what to do, how to share information, how to think!

Thank you for the invitation, but I shall decline. Too much surveillance already, no? ;)

Good work. You're getting it.


Multitude of Multitudes

If Hardt and Negri believe that the internet and immaterial production provide both affirmative and necessary opportunities for the constitution of the multitude in postmodern society, and if we further understand the internet as a "network of networks" linked by circuit and signal, sharing certain protocols but having unique configurations, then should we not also insist that the multitude is similarly a "multitude of multitudes"?

In this insistence of the materiality of the forms of communication and the respective interfaces that connect human bodies together, the sporting multitude emerges as one such potential multitude among others. The sporting multitude is unique in its constitution though networked with other multitudes, both formally, in terms of communication systems and politically, in the sense of a common struggle against the meshworks of Empire. Thus, while material and immaterial structures, leverage points, and conditions of possibility may be unique to a particular biotic component (cf. Haraway) of the broader multitude, there exists the strong potential for diffusion, drift or rhizomatic connection on the strategic plane between these networks, as well as the rational singular-plural interest to do so.

G+D: "This is how it should be done: Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of land at all times."

Snowboarding and Strategies of Refusal

Jacobellis - Switch

Snowboarding and Strategies of Refusal: Goddess, Cyborg, Switch

(submitted by barbara fornssler and sean smith to the 2009 sport, sexuality and culture conference at ithaca college)

Framed as a necessary departure from Donna Haraway's theoretical cyborg, the figure of the "switch" is introduced to understand the complex relationality experienced by the athlete-subject in a moment of Olympic competition. Appropriated from the complex sexual politics of BDSM culture, the figure of the switch allows for a renegotiation of Haraway's cyborg by creating a space in which the submissive/dominant dichotomy between the emancipatory feminist cyborg and the patriarchical military-industrial cyborg may be explored as a contextual and meshed embodiment of contingency and historical decision-making in strategic situations.

* * *

The race begins and four bodies careen out of the starting gates to dart headlong downhill. Immediately, one of the challengers is shot off the track and into the safety net lining the course. Then another one drops, and another, until it is just Lindsey Jacobellis out in front, substantially ahead of her nearest pursuer. Four sources of energy on the video screen have been quickly whittled down to one, Jacobellis absorbing the electromagnetic flows from the other three as millions of viewers crane towards their screens to watch her race to the finish line. She knows she's out in front by a large margin and as she nears her final goal the adrenaline rushes, though she is hardly aware of her pounding heart.

This is the logic of theatre.

Almost at the finish line, about to achieve the orgasm of modern sport, the athletic body speaks of its own accord. In the moment of climax, Jacobellis chooses a different model of gratification. She hit a short rise in the snow and pulled a method grab. Ecstasy!

But snowboarding itself is not immune from its own spectacularization. Indeed, the sport came of age in the era of digital cameras and handheld personal videocameras, and thus from the very beginning, snowboarding was spectacle. Given enough attempts, one will almost always get the optimum photo or video clip, detached from the aura of its icy production environment.

This is the logic of film.

In this case, however, given the primacy of the sporting theatre, Jacobellis was only afforded one take for the camera … and she wiped out. Face plant.

Chance? Aleatory perturbations in laminar flow as she soared through the air?

Or does the athletic body dip the edge of the board ever-so-slightly, the boundary between human and machine ever negotiable? Does the lumbar vertebrae straighten imperceptibly skyward and tilt the axis of rotation backward just a few degrees? In other words, does the athletic body effect not a rational agency, but an affective agency comparable to a doubling of Csikszentmihalyi's flow theory model?

The agency of the snowboarding body to ignore the linear pursuit of the record and attempt a method grab at the moment of ecstasy should be considered authentic to the expressive genealogy from which it emerges. But if Jacobellis had completed the trick it would have been simply folded into the spectacle of Olympism in the process, as an avalanche may sweep away adventurous boarders who have ventured out of bounds in search of fresh powder. The completed trick would have had greater sign value than that of her face plant.

In the end, as the body lays sprawled helplessly on the snow while a pursuer pulls up from far behind to claim the gold medal, it is the ecstasy that is left open, a libidinal investment that refuses its return to the wish-desire and its sign of negation. In crashing, Jacobellis is loyal neither to the cyborgian body-machine-image complex of the Olympic athlete nor to that of the recreational snowboarder, though she is of both domains. She is Switch.

This is the logic of the network.

[Chorus: "Thanks be to God(dess)."]

* * *

This paper interrogates the figure of the switch through a case study of American snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, who crashed in the 2006 Olympic boardercross final while pulling a trick only a short distance from the finish line and a certain gold medal, ultimately having to settle for silver. In this case, the switch engages in sport as dominant or submissive — as Olympic versus freestyle snowboarder — dependent on the context of encounter, allowing for a new agency of the subject that is affective through its movement and sensation. The emergence of Jacobellis' fall just prior to the climactic point of victory stands as a double strategy of refusal — a negation of the spectacle that makes explicit the identity of the switch and its implications for a new feminist politics.

Abstracting Ender, Swarming Sender

Note: this essay was cross-posted to the nettime-l mailing list

"All of us are already civilian soldiers, without knowing it. And some of us know it. The great stroke of luck for the military class's terrorism is that no one recognizes it. People don't recognize the militarized part of their identity, of their consciousness" (Paul Virilio, Pure War, p.26).

* * *

Two articles recently retrieved from the data networks, each located somewhere in the nexus between war and interactive entertainment, have given me pause to consider Virilio's question of the civilian soldier anew. The first comes from Wired's Danger Room blog, in which David Hambling details the use of console videogame controllers as the interface for piloting unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). He quotes an executive from defense contractor Raytheon, who points out that "the video-game industry always will outspend the military on improving human-computer interaction," and hence the logic of such an interface choice.

For many would-be soldiers this synergy is years in the making. The blend of muscle memory and proprioception required to operate a console videogame controller, honed throughout childhood, readily transfers to military-level applications much more smoothly (and cheaply) than developing new motor skills for proprietary military interfaces. While various sporting pursuits (boxing, archery, football, etc.) were perceived in eras past to translate in a more abstract biomechanical sense to the battlefield, today the translation is far more concrete: no longer will kids play make-believe with toy guns before a subset someday handles the genuine article; instead, everyone that plays console videogames will always already be handling the real thing and training their bodies for "combat."

The second news item concerning the civilian soldier comes from the 2008 E3 conference, where Sony announced the future launch of its new massively multiplayer online game (MMO), tentatively titled M.A.G. - Massive Action Game. An online war simulation game, M.A.G. promises a substantial innovation in that it will allow 256 players to play simultaneously on the same server without experiencing performance lags (generally speaking, the average online console game might support 20-30 players simultaneously on the same server). Players will compete in squads of eight soldiers, and progress through a "character development" arc that adds certain skills to the soldier's portfolio, from commando, to medic, to demolitions, and so on (embedded journalist didn't appear to be on the list). Though the announcement seems to be as much promotional blitz as substance at this time, it speaks to a concerted effort by Sony to vastly develop its capabilities in online gaming and move the console genre from traditional fantasy world to war simulation.

Online multiplayer gaming is not new. And the war simulation genre is as old as videogames themselves. But Sony's desire and capital investment to shift war videogames to bigger and better online gaming experiences should be of interest as it heralds a significant change in the relationship between war and interactive entertainment, for once the game moves off the console proper and into a server farm or data cloud we create the potential for a radical shift in the notion of the archive as it relates to play and violence, war and peace.

In distilled form, the logistics of war are about tracking a variety of objects — soldiers, vehicles, munitions — as they move spatiotemporally to, from, and within theatres of conflict. Advances in tracking technology have allowed such logistical endeavours to become more granular and synchronized, allowing, for example, real-time remote control of assets on a cartographic grid. But as Jordan Crandall notes in his recent Nettime post, we are making a mistake if we view this primarily as a problem in space. "While it is possible to map … tracked objects in space, such spatialization is not primary. The map is secondary; the numbers are what speak."

This becomes even more apparent when the "space of conflict" in question is the mathematically-generated non-space of the MMO game: when the numbers of polygonal geometric structure beget the numbers of discrete object tracking, which beget the numbers of individual player and team scoring, and so forth. When videogames are played locally on consoles or personal computers, this data stays on the local hard drive or else isn't captured at all. Massive numbers of players in an MMO game, on the other hand, create massive amounts of data, all captured by the owner of the servers. And increasingly, as Ian Ayres points out in Super Crunchers, this data may be mined with sophisticated statistical methods to create actionable information of considerable value to its owner.

Using M.A.G. and the nexus of war and interactive entertainment as an example, such database mining may operate along at least three dimensions to create actionable information of interest to the military: first, to analyze and understand in the aggregate potential outcomes of a mission gamed thousands of times with real human factors and decision making involved; second, to determine within the connected intelligence of this gaming community how learning takes place given objectives with more or less clearly defined goals; third, and perhaps most interesting, to extract statistical outliers at the long tail of the distribution curve that may provide strategies and tactics superior to those put forth by existing military doctrine.

In this last dimension science fiction aficionados will find echoes of the so-called Ender's Game scenario, after the award-winning science fiction novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card. In Ender's Game, children playing videogames are used, without their knowledge, as tools of war against an alien species:

Mazer reached out and touched his shoulder. Ender shrugged him off. Mazer then grew serious and said, "Ender, for the past few months you have been the battle commander of our fleets. This was the Third Invasion. There were no games, the battles were real, and the only enemy you fought was the buggers. You won every battle, and today you finally fought them at their home world, where the queen was, all the queens from all their colonies, they all were there and you destroyed them completely. They'll never attack us again. You did it. You."

Real. Not a game. Ender's mind was too tired to cope with it all. They weren't just points of light in the air, they were real ships that he had fought with and real ships he had destroyed. And a real world that he had blasted into oblivion. He walked through the crowd, dodging their congratulations, ignoring their hands, their words, their rejoicing. When he got to his own room he stripped off his clothes, climbed into bed, and slept (p.296).

In conjunction with the statistical analysis of the petabytes of data they produce, Sony's M.A.G. and its ilk potentially bring the Ender's Game scenario to full fruition, albeit with two major caveats: the role of Ender is no longer played by one person but has been abstracted from the databanked performance of thousands of gamers and aggregated together in a "wisdom of crowds" logic; and instead of Ender controlling a fleet of soldiers in real-time as in the book, our current scenario describes an asynchronous feedbackforward of generated information flowing to and from ludic and violent spaces, oscillating on different temporal registers between the cyborg soldier on the battlefield and the cyborg gamer jacked into the simulation.

In raising such a red flag I may be accused of potential paleo-futurism or paranoid conspiracy, so let me attempt to deflect both of those critiques in advance. With regard to paleo-futurism we must note that most of the exhibits Matt Novak identifies on his blog concern speculative technologies not in existence at the time of their historical prediction, and which would have required significant modifications in consumer behaviour in order to be realized. As the various tidal flows of capital investment in information technology over the past two decades demonstrates, predicting consumer acceptance of disruptive technologies is tricky business. But data mining the archives of play in MMOs does not require any new shift in consumer behaviour: the move from local console severality to non-local online multiplicity has already taken place. It simply becomes a marketing promotions exercise to channel users into the "right" war game or downloadable module at the "right" time.

Nor is it conspiratorial to point out that the traditional nation-state military force has ceded to a complex web of interdependent relationships between various branches of armed forces, intelligence agencies, university research institutions, private militias, and corporate defense contractors — a process that has been underway for the past century:

They could no longer simply say that on one side there was the arsenal which produced a few shells, and on the other civilian consumption and the budget. No, they noticed that they needed a special economy, a wartime economy. This wartime economy was a formidable discovery, which in reality announced and inaugurated the military-industrial complex (Paul Virilio, Pure War, p.16).

Likewise, it is not conspiratorial to note that the communications and entertainment industries are being woven into this web, as the first article about console videogame controllers being used to pilot UAVs illustrates. Rather, this weaving should be considered a logical outcome of the Revolution in Military Affairs and subsequent introduction of C4I technology and strategy, which Donna Haraway hinted at thirty years ago as leading to a "homework economy … controlled by high-tech repressive apparatuses ranging from entertainment to surveillance and disappearance."

The only question, paranoid or no, seems to be how fully the entertainment industries will become enmeshed in the society permanently at war, not simply at the level of human-machine interface — as with the use of console videogame controllers in military contexts — but at the level of intelligence generation and strategy formulation.

It is noteworthy to point out that data mining the movements of players in war-based MMO games would not be the U.S. military's first foray into attempting to harness the collective intelligence of civilians. In 2001 the United States' Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — not uncoincidentally the same agency responsible for the internet's genesis — funded two projects under the label of "Electronic Market-Based Decision Support."

One of these projects was called Policy Analysis Market (PAM), which was a prediction market that offered traders the ability to financially speculate on the possible occurrence of future geopolitical outcomes. Though substantial development was completed on PAM, it was canceled before its scheduled launch in 2003 due to pressure from the U.S. Senate, which accused the system of basically allowing people to bet and profit on the potential of terrorist attacks and assassinations. Political considerations aside, Brian Holmes' more nuanced and formal analysis of PAM suggests that it "produces information, while turning human actors into functional relays, or indeed, into servomechanisms; and it 'consumes freedom' for a purpose."

Data mining massively multiplayer online war videogames accomplishes similar goals with potentially lucrative gains for entertainment companies like Sony. Indeed, there is a precise calculus of profit maximization to be located between the price elasticity of downloadable game content and the value of data-mined algorithms resulting from exponentially increasing network effects in the game environment. And the freedoms of human actors — the freedom of play, the freedom to choose — are consumed in the production of these algorithms as the civilian soldier lurking within every war gamer is extracted towards servomechanistic ends.

The geopolitical landscape has been changing inexorably since the Cold War, and the tactics and strategies of contemporary conflict have radically followed suit. For example, swarming — of bodies, DNS attacks, etc. — has become a common tactic in material and immaterial fourth-generation warfare. By contrast, then, we might conceive of our MMO data mining scenario as a swarm-in-being of minds and partial-bodies (cf. Virilio's "fleet-in-being"), that is actualized at a later date by soldiers in the battlefield. In other words, it is an "apparatus of capture" by the State — understood in the sense articulated above as a complex web of interrelationships linking public and private interest — that aggregates together diffuse molecular elements at the micropolitical scale.

As a corollary to the first two caveats regarding the Ender's Game scenario mentioned above, a third emerges: in the novel Ender is racked with guilt upon learning of his role in exterminating the enemy bugger species, despite his ignorance at the time of the reality of the situation. Since Ender becomes in our present context an abstraction from the databased activities of thousands, questions of morality and intentionality in war as they relate to the agency of one individual are shattered when considered in this emerging, diffused, servomechanistic form: who, exactly, is responsible? This swarm-in-being is frightening in that it may exert a significant controlling influence over wartime operations without ever engaging in an overt act of violence — or the moral deliberation that accompanies such an act.

Chess, Language, Gender and Power

As discussed earlier regarding the archivization of chess movements, we view a gradual shift over 400 years from a formal old English means of documenting games to a descriptive chess notation, a form of information compression that leverages the striating architecture of the chessboard and representational alphanumerics to convey much the same information in a far more economical fashion. To refresh:

1614: The white king commands his owne knight into the third house before his owne bishop.
1750: K. knight to His Bishop's 3d.
1837: K.Kt. to B.third sq.
1848: K.Kt. to B's 3rd.
1859: K. Kt. to B. 3d.
1874: K Kt to B3
1889: KKt-B3
1904: Kt-KB3
1946: N-KB3

Today, most of the chess world has standardized on the even more compact algebraic notation, which would render the above example as "Nf3". There has clearly been a shift away from a more elegant, ornamental prose account of the action to a radically compressed form of information, in which alphanumeric characters describe the essential components of the movement in question. In descriptive notation, action is archived using the rank of the piece in question and its final resting place on the grid, spatially relative to the King or Queen pieces (ie. N-KB3 means "knight moves to the third rank in front of the bishop on the King’s side of the board"). In the even more compact algebraic notation, on the other hand, a move is recorded using the rank of the piece in question and the grid coordinates of the final resting space (ie. Nf3 means "knight moves to the f3 square on the chessboard grid").

This evolution notwithstanding, the goal, two-fold in nature, remains the same: precisely track movements in space and time during a contest and, in doing so, create an archive of those movements. "f3" is strictly a spatial referent and "Nf3" is a movement tracked in space and time, archived with an economy of language to complement the economy of movement that Foucault analyzed so well in other spaces of disciplinary power — factory, school, hospital, barracks, prison.

In the context of gender and power, however, the consequences of this evolution are not trivial.

In Birth of the Chess Queen, Yalom makes a very convincing argument that the queen becomes the most powerful piece on the chessboard due to the rise of queens as essential figures in the courts of medieval Europe. Other historians suggest the rise of long distance battlefield artillery as providing the cultural impetus for such a shift in the game. Likely it's a combination of both factors. As the archiving language of chess compresses over the past four centuries, the way that gender and power referents are written into the archive has changed considerably. Where once there was a King and Queen, now there is only a K or a Q. And the archiving of the King who owns a particular spot on the board — or another piece that is coded in relation to the King — is reduced to simple inscribed alphanumeric grid coordinates.

In other words, while the underlying power structures represented and embedded in the model of chess — particularly the complex gender relations between King and Queen that emerged in the medieval European version of the game — have remained reasonably unchanged during the last 400 years, the language used to archive the game has inexorably been stripped of gender and power referents — data frugality eliminates the possibility for "commands," "owne," and "His."

According to Kittler, since 1880 "literature no longer has been able to write for girls, simply because girls themselves write" (GFT, p. 174). He doesn't mean here that women had written themselves into being, as the French feminist thinker Hélène Cixous wishes, but that in joining the second industrial wave as office stenographers and typists women were thrust into the mechanics of writing as a livelihood. It is no coincidence that the information compression of the chess archive approaches its limit around the same time that the typewriter/woman machine emerges in industrial society. Kittler continues: "The typewriter cannot conjure up anything imaginary, as can cinema; it cannot simulate the real, as can sound recording; it only inverts the gender of writing. In so doing, however, it inverts the material basis of literature" (GFT, p. 183). In the context of our chess discussion, we are left with the question of how to read this inversion of writing and gender and the emerging immateriality of the textual archive as the discrete alphanumerics of the typewriter sublimate into computerized data networks.

Two interpretations suggest themselves. Optimistically, the computer-human symbiosis facilitates (qua Haraway) a form of post-gender relations. While we shouldn't look at these acronyms ahistorically — clearly they have deep, meaningful gender histories — in the contemporary moment we can read in the simple alphanumeric signifier of K or Q an absence of gender. For all intents and purposes, the language of the modern chess archive becomes blind to gender and power referents; objects are visioned, mapped and archived in space and time and with each discrete movement thereafter plotted anew. The gender and power referents that are imbued in the game very early on disappear in the creation, maintenance and modernization of the chess archive. When the computer reads these alphanumeric characters in the archiving and transmission of the game, the simulation of the game, and even the playing of the game against human opponents, it is blind to gender and power as it has no sense of this historical tradition.

On the other hand, what if computers and computer networks are fashioned in a combination of hierarchy and meshwork (cf. DeLanda) that reproduces existing gender/power structures, and the computer disregards gender and power relations as in the first scenario? This ahistoric understanding by the computer is perhaps doubly dangerous in that there is a social mindset created of post-gender normativity despite a structural reality that suggests otherwise.