Monday, January 28, 2013

Can flying robots track invisible people?

In the 2009 cyberpunk film Sleep Dealer, the U.S.-Mexico border is guarded by a machine comprised of (i) a surveillance camera, (ii) a machine gun and (iii) a robot voice interrogator, the apparent purpose of which is to keep Americans from leaving the country. Today's news reveals what appear to be plans to implement this dystopian vision—except that the real robots will be flying robots, and they won't ask questions.

"Senators Offer a Bipartisan Blueprint for Immigration"alerts The New York Times on the top of the front/landing page, coding the proposal as good news you should reflexively support. "Border Security First, Paving Way to Path to Citizenship," reads the sub-head, above the pictures of leading Democrats and Republicans sharing the podium. Keep reading. Better yet, dig into the talking points.

Short version: The border will be secured by armed flying robots. If you sneak past them, we will let you stay as a guest worker.

Some highlights from the Orwellian Senatorial PDF:

"To fulfill the basic governmental function of securing our borders, we will continue the increased efforts of the Border Patrol by providing them with the latest technology, infrastructure, and personnel needed to prevent, detect, and apprehend every unauthorized entrant.

"Additionally, our legislation will increase the number of unmanned aerial vehicles and surveillance equipment, improve radio interoperability and increase the number of agents at and between ports of entry. The purpose is to substantially lower the number of successful illegal border crossings while continuing to facilitate commerce.

"Once the enforcement measures have been completed, individuals with probationary legal status will be required to go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants, pass an additional background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate a history of work in the United States, and current employment, among other requirements, in order to earn the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency. Those individuals who successfully complete these requirements can eventually earn a green card."

[Pic: Section of the border wall in Arizona that is designed to move with the shifting sands.]

The proposal is indeed a wonderful example of our two-party system in action. Republicans get to perform new oratorical science fictions about the omniscient super force-field robot border wall. Democrats get to imagine a new underclass subservient to citizen (union) labor and so dependent on the state that each member actually has to register on the official ledger.

You saw the part about how the guest workers will have to pay taxes while they are taking the classes where they learn the Pledge of Allegiance and waiting for their background check to be completed, but won't be eligible for any government benefits? I bet the lines are already forming.

Never mind the fact that net migration trends have reversed in recent years. Or that by mid-century, our aging population and declining birth rates will probably have us paying bounties for fresh young labor to come over and man the life support maquiladoras for the Baby Boomers that never die. If you were as nutty as Alex Jones, you might think that's exactly the plan: America as labor camp for the last rich white guys to live like posthuman sultans, looking out the window at the endless green fairways behind the fence, lit up at night by the fracking flareoffs. That's the sound of Chuck Schumer giving John McCain the high five that you just heard.

[Pic: Migrant workers operate distant factory robots from an infomaquila in Tijuana—still from Alex Rivera's Sleep Dealer.]

A while back, I was kidnapped by the Tijuana Liberation Front, and they made me read this message for the hostage video, which was played back to the lanes of cars lined up to cross at San Ysidro. I tried to synthesize some of my thoughts on the border as mental and physical space, some of which are, I like to think, useful context for reading today's news:

The next generation of border fortifications will be invisible and essentially imaginary—an American exercise in state-sponsored science fiction very similar to Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” space-based defense against Soviet nuclear missiles, which did not have to be real to break the financial back of the Soviets trying to match it. The border wall does not actually need to work to fulfill its purpose.

In her 2010 book Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, UC-Berkeley Professor Wendy Brown makes a compelling case that the real purpose of the global boom in border fortifications is to restore the idea of the sovereign state in a world where the nation-state is diminishing in relevance and coherency. In Brown’s view, the U.S. border wall primarily exists to reinforce in the minds of American citizens the idea that the border—and the Nation—really exists...

The border wall draws the line from the map in “real” space, but as HSARPA’s call for ideas shows, it does very little to make that line “real.” ...To the extent the next generation border security systems will work, it will not be because they actually function as physical barriers. It will be because people believe in them as a representation of the idea of the country they define. Government-designed surveillance and interdiction networks, operated by the inheritors of Dr. Strangelove’s war room, only work in Hollywood reality as an accepted narrative of government power that reinforces the identity of the citizen living in a protective Panopticon.

You can read the whole thing over at the New York Review of Science Fiction.

Better yet, go browse around inside the the curious website of HSARPA—the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, and get a vision of a future you might not have imagined.

And don't forget the gate code.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Liberty ship demolition derby

What if Cinderella's castle at Disneyland really were a castle? Filled with teenagers and dwarves ready to defend it from assault with all-American arsenals? Via the tabloid weirdness of Drudge Report, busy minting the clicks on pages full of advertisements exploiting fears of imminent gun confiscation in advance of the labor camp roundups, we learn that a group of self-styled patriots is planning to do something just like that in the "American Redoubt" of northern Idaho, building a thousand-acre fortress chartered as a right-libertarian alternative subdivision. "The Citadel" proposes to take the social isolation of the gated community, inject it with equal doses of California commune and survivalist compound, and charter an armed country club for voluntary exiles to fortify the adversarial reality they have in mind when they think of the American dream. Who knew the Ruby Ridge lifestyle could become the basis of a real estate development pitch?

"The Citadel Community will house between 3,500 and 7,000 patriotic American families who agree that being prepared for the emergencies of life and being proficient with the American icon of Liberty — the Rifle — are prudent measures. There will be no HOA. There will be no recycling police and no local ordinance enforcers from City Hall."

And from the FAQ:

"One of the primary reasons for a lease paradigm versus private property inside the walls is our desire to make the community for Patriots only.

"The model will be similar in many ways to that of Disneyland. It is walled, gated, private property with controlled access. People pay to enter and agree to the rules because they see value in doing so. It is all based on a voluntary agreement between the owners of the property and those who want to come inside."

The website for the Citadel lays out a dark, counter-utopian piece of architecture fiction—the design for a right-utopian community on a corporate model, situated in the evergreen interstices of American socio-geographic reality. The corporation would acquire the the land, and charter the rules of the community within the bounds of applicable U.S. and Idaho law. Residents would lease, rather than own, their homes (all of which, the site advises, would be made from poured concrete), and would enter into a membership agreement with a pretty intense list of the chores involved in fertilizing the orchard of liberty and keeping Thomas Jefferson's hair on fire, including:

"Two: Every able-bodied Patriot aged 13 and older governed by this Agreement shall annually demonstrate proficiency with the rifle of his/her choice by hitting a man-sized steel target at 100 yards with open sights at the Citadel range. Each Resident shall have 10 shots and must hit the target at least 7 times.

"Three: Every able-bodied Patriot aged 13 and older governed by this Agreement shall annually demonstrate proficiency with a handgun of choice by hitting a man-sized steel target at 25 yards with open sights at the Citadel range. Each Resident shall have 10 shots and must hit the target at least 7 times.

"Four: Every able-bodied Patriot of age within the Citadel will maintain one AR15 variant in 5.56mm NATO, at least 5 magazines and 1,000 rounds of ammunition. The responsibility for maintaining functional arms and ammunition levels for every member of the household shall fall to the head of household. Every able-bodied Patriot will be responsible for maintaining a Tactical Go Bag or Muster Kit to satisfy the Minuteman concept..."

And so on. Basically, an entire communal fiefdom organized around the idea of the Second Amendment as a constitution unto itself, expressing a dark, anti-communitarian, anachronistic thread of our culture that our current dysfunctional politics is only managing to stoke. But one can also wonder whether this project might portend more than the resurgence of the Bo Gritz Zeitgeist.

I've been interested for some time in speculations about how the increasing obsolescence (and literal bankruptcy) of the post-Westphalian nation state as the business model of our political reality would lead to a proliferation of experiments in micro-sovereignties—carving out private geographic space for socio-political experimentation that mirrors the way network culture cultivates such communities in virtual space. Things like the Honduran charter cities experiments and the ship-borne libertarian "seasteading" plans funded by Peter Thiel and others are examples that have gotten traction and publicity in the past year. In the pre-Civil War U.S., state governments frequently authorized experimental private communities, from the Mormon settlement of Nauvoo, which was sanctioned by the legislature as an essentially autonomous political island within the state of Illinois, to the unexpectedly strange-looking predecessors of the modern business corporation—creatures of private bills chartered for specific purposes with whatever rights they could persuade the state to give them. When you remix these kinds of precedents in the network's tumbler of political diversity, the possibilities are intriguing (and, as this example shows, potentially scary—or at least fertile territory for cranks).

By way of timely example, Drudge also links today a story from the Times of Israel that Bashar Assad is now living with his family on a warship off the Syrian coast and taking a helicopter to work, giving us a fresh new stake on the idea of seasteading. One imagines the Alawaite Baathist regime, following its imminent deposition, existing as a floating post-sovereignty, roaming the oceans with rent-a-cop Russian naval escorts until the money runs out. Shahs of Sunset meets the Love Boat with a healthy dose of Ballardian cozy catastrophe.

I just wrote a story for Rick Klaw's upcoming Texas science fiction anthology about an investment banker who is in the business of mergers and acquisitions between countries (and other political subdivisions) rather than companies. The idea, to me, has a curious plausibility in a world of emergent experiments in localized sovereignty. The network has already destabilized the old geopolitical order. It seems inevitable that it will begin trying to remake our polities in its own image—an infinitely diverse archipelago of self-invented political realities, many if not most of which will seem crazy to their neighbors. How will the social organization of network culture interact with the tactile realities of geography as the principal determinant of political identity? To what extent can we create functioning polities, founded on authentically consensual social contracts, that transcend the boundaries of the lands on which we live?

During the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Consultate in Benghazi, consular official Sean Smith was also hanging out in the smoke-filled rooms of Eve Online, where he had started an intergalactic diplomatic corps. For a decade now, Professor Ed Castronova has been documenting the emerging political economy of virtual worlds—including the exchange rates with real-world currencies. The new socio-economic realities we constitute through our screens have acquired indisputable reality. As our contemporary idea of community becomes more like a Facebook group than town meeting, surely it's just a matter of time that these disparate realms of the identity we invent and the identity we inherit figure out ways to converge? Some of them may even leave the drawbridges open.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

R.I.P. Steven Utley, 1948-2013

Chris Roberson and Steven Utley, Armadillocon
Damn it all to hell. I was just winding down for the night when I saw the awful, wretched news that Steven Utley had passed away. Words can't express how angry this makes me. Hell, I didn't even know Steven was sick. I saw him at Armadillcon (that's a photo from a previous Armadillocon to the right--Chris Roberson's on the left, Steven is on the right) this past summer and he looked healthy and in good spirits. We passed in the hall several times on the way to different events, but promised to catch up with each other later on and chat. Of course, we never did. Now I'm kicking myself. Lawrence Person's posts sum it up:

I just received word from Jessica Reisman:

Molly let me know that Steve passed last night at about 10:40 pm, eastern. His family was with him.

I’ll miss him.

As will we all.

Utley announced to his friends that he had been diagnosed with Type 4 cancer in his intestines, liver, and lungs, and a lesion on his brain on December 27, 2012. On January 7, he sent out an email saying that he was losing his motor skills and designated Jessica as his literary executor (and hopefully she’ll be able to get some of his swell stories back in print). On the morning of January 12 he slipped into a coma and died that night.
Steven was one of the original members of the legendary Turkey City Writers Workshop. I became a fan of Steven's maybe 20 years ago at a Monkey House party in College Station, during some AggieCon or other. Perusing the bookshelves (they've got great bookshelves at the Monkey House) I came across a copy of Lone Star Universe, the anthology Steven co-edited with George W. Proctor. I was besmitten. I mean, that Texas-centric anthology spoke to me, and I vowed to put together another myself, come hell or high water. And I almost managed to pull it off a time or two, but Cross Plains Universe and now Rayguns Over Texas have pretty much taken the wind out of those sails for good. Still, I got Steven to sign my copy at Armadillocon 30 (as well as his collection Beasts of Love) so it's all good.

I first "met" Steven online, in the late 90s, on comic book message forums, believe it or not. I can't remember what we talked about, but we exchanged quite a few messages back and forth. Then I began tracking down his other fiction, having only read the magnificent "Ghost Seas" in Lone Star Universe previously. His story, "Custer's Last Jump," co-written with frequent collaborator Howard Waldrop, is as brilliant (and outrageous) an alternate history romp as ever I have read. But what is truly amazing is that during my tenure as fiction editor at from 2002-2005, Steven became my most-frequent contributor, sending me both classic works for reprint and original pieces. This is particularly amazing, considering the fact that I paid him "all the prestige he could eat." But I made sure to assign the best illustrators to his stories, so that's something. I was fortunate enough to publish several installments of his classic Silurian cycle, including "Another Continuum Heard From!" which takes a skewed look at voting rights when they come into conflict with the technicalities of time travel. It makes for a poor memorial, but here is a comprehensive list of every Steven Utley story I published while at RevSF. It is the best that I can do:

The Age of Mud and Slime
Another Continuum Heard From!
Chaos and the Gods
Getting Away
Little Whalers
My Evil Twin
Pan-Galactic Swingers

The Future of the Confederacy, i.e.: Now

Seating within the gravestones

I seem to be doing a poor job of writing about the future on this blog. And let's face it, there's nothing quite as mired in the past as the Confederate States of America.

Opposing units, artillery vs. skirmishers

Regular readers might remember a post I wrote about nineteenth century Austin city marshal Ben Thompson. He was a larger than life gunfighter with a body count to rival the worst outlaw. But he was largely forgotten by history, presumably because he had a boring name and was never photographed in a cowboy hat.
If I were a journalist, I would have
asked what those gold neck sashes
were for, but I'm not,so I didn't.

I have written about him several times, mainly because he embodied the same paradoxes as Austin's current police force, in that he was apparently well-meaning and consistently charitable to others, but he was also prone to acts of state-sponsored injustice (he once arrested a woman for wearing slacks) and unchecked violence (he routinely avoided homicide charges by invoking 'self-defense').

Presumably on the strengths of my multiple posts on Ben Thompson, the organizers of the Ben Thompson grave re-dedication offered me a press pass to the event. I accepted, largely because they promised a twenty-one musket and cannon salute, but also because no one has ever offered me a press pass before and how could I turn that down? The ceremony took place at a city-owned cemetery, so I assumed it was an official event.

At that time it hadn't sunk in that the press release for the event used the word 'Confederate' six times.

Taken as a whole, the event was about 90% Confederate. Thompson's great-granddaughter spoke and she was the only one who mentioned the parts of Thompson's life that fell outside of the Civil War. The rest of the program included a notorious Republican politician praising the “military tradition” of the Confederacy, masonic Confederate rites, and a truly awesome musket/canon fusillade.

I arrived right as the ceremony began. While on my way to the event I worried that I would have trouble finding Thompson's grave in the rather large cemetery. I needn't have worried, all I had to do was follow the gay colors of four Confederate flags of various designs, a Texas flag, and, almost as an afterthought, the US flag.

This guy would be the
coolest steampunker
at the con

You would think that there was no point in having a press pass at an open event with about forty people, but I'm glad I registered because my press pass came with a swag bag. The contents included such treasures as invitations to join Confederate groups, a commemorative wooden coin from a company called Rebel Trucking, and tourist brochures for Giddings.

The master of ceremonies, a bearded officer in the gray, called the ceremony to order with a pledge of allegiance to the US flag, the Texas flag, and the array of Confederate flags. I guess that's the appropriate order. I don't know the words to the latter two, and everyone else in the crowd was mumbling so I may not have been the only one. The MC saluted the flags, but as I have never served in the military, either real or re-enacted, I merely doffed my hat. Have you ever been in a situation where you take your hat off during the pledge of allegiance to the US flag, and the next thing you know, you find yourself with your hand over your heart while everyone around you pledges their allegiance to the Confederate flag? It's awkward.
Texas Land Commissioner talks
about Military Tradition

An errant gust blows away the wreath
 and Jerry Patterson leaps instantly
into action
Politician and man of action

We'll let the opening prayer pass without comment and move straight to the speech by Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Coincidentally, I had actually written a profile piece on the man about a year ago. I
suspect that Patterson attended the event for the explicit purpose of having his picture taken in front of the Confederate flag. For those of you not from Texas, land commissioner is a not particularly high-profile post, probably about the fifth most powerful office in the state's executive branch (governor being about third or fourth). Commissioner Patterson has earned a name for himself by taking principled stands on issues where either the CSA or firearms play a prominent role. For instance, he's the reason why there's thousands of acres of quail and varmint hunting opportunities out by Big Bend, and as a holder of the Texas public hunting lands permit, he's earned my vote for just that reason.

A widow lays her black rose while the land
commissioner watches, bemused.

Patterson arrived late, missing the opening prayer (which we will NOT comment on), but when the wind blew away Ben Thompson's wreath, he leapt off his folding chair to grab it and return it to its rightful place. That's exactly the sort of level-headed can-do attitude that one expects of a public official when chaos strikes.

The next element of the ceremony was the laying of flowers by the largely female re-enacting groups. One of the groups, called the Soiled Doves of Texas, dressed in bawdy saloon wench corsets and skirts (but as it's affirmed on their website, they are not actually prostitutes). The other group, the Order of Confederate Roses, occupied the far
A widow glides across the graveyard

opposite side of the nineteenth century continuum of womanly virtue. They dressed entirely in black, their faces obscured under a black veil. They looked like a cross between the Bene Gesserit and characters from a ghost story (you know the one, where a guy on a train wakes up in his sleeper car to find a strange woman in a rocking chair in the corner, and then it turns out that the lump she has under a shawl in her lap wasn't a child after all but her husband's severed head!). As far as I could tell, they didn't say a word the entire ceremony, just maintained their spooky silence as they proceeded one by one up to Thompson's grave and presented it with a single black rose.
The saloon wench shows her respect

The MC then performed a ceremony where he read off the names of the Confederate dead and then rang a bell in remembrance. I believe they only read the names of the ones who Thompson knew personally, which took a lot less time than I had feared it would.


Then we got to the part I'd been waiting for, the firing of the cannon. I guess that our local CSA regiment was never properly disarmed after The War.

Musket salute!

Now comes the part of the article where I address the elephant in the blog post: Aren't people with a lot of confederate flags horrible racists? For instance, the KKK no longer dresses in the white hoods, they cover their faces with Confederate flag bandannas  From what I saw during the Thompson event, I would say that although the Confederate re-enacters occupy the same iconographic continuum as the KKK, they don't seem like the same social group. In essence they don't appear much less dorky or guileless than the cosplayers the readers of this blog are familiar with. Think of them as steampunkers, but without the sense of whimsy.
The ringing of the bell for
the names of the Confederate dead

Commissioner Patterson made the point (in roughly so many words) that although our Texas ancestors have a lot of warts when viewed through a 21st century lens, it's not wrong to venerate the “military tradition” of the people who served.

Far be it for me to criticize someone for celebrating their ancestors. After all, my family still holds the vikings in high esteem and that's not considered distasteful (at least in Minnesota). But maybe that's because so much time has passed, or maybe it's because nobody really denies that vikings were terrifying racist murders. Certainly nobody wants the vikings to come back into power. Likewise, for all the talk of Texas secession, it seems unlikely that there's any serious attempts by the South to establish a golden circle plantation state any time in the near future.

Seriously, I wish I dressed like that every day

Maybe there's a sliding timeline of acceptable historical re-enactment? For instance, people celebrating the Germany of seventy years ago are clearly monsters. But Minnesotans celebrating the vikings of a thousand years ago (who were at least as bad as the Confederates on a sheer human suffering level) are considered cute. Flying the flag of the rebel south is probably somewhere in the middle.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Lost in machine translation

I found the above brain bomb just two clicks from the Drudge Report. Could it be purposeful on the part of that innuendo-slinging cyber-Winchell, busy fomenting post-Newtown "blood of tyrants" fears that the government is about to disarm the civilian population, to lead me almost directly to an image of a cute suburban grade schooler wearing a bunny suit, a gas mask, and several extra candy bar ammo clips to feed his assault rifle? Leave it to the gomi-no-gnomes of some fifth floor Tokyo action figure atelier to show us the what the Zeigeist really wants as the next step in the evolution of American insanity: arm the grade schoolers with really cute SWAT gear so they can defend themselves!

The network architecture was simple. Drudge featured an image of an action figure of the President, as one his baiting caricatures of the day. That led to this, which in turn led to this:

[Machine translation: "Proficient president, a Japanese winter."]

The little redhead kid's face appeared below picnic Prez as a thumbnail. Not sure why I clicked it, but I did, and got the rest of the story. "Let's Go Baby!" were the only words I could read on the Japanese-language page (not counting the red text indicating the item was 20% off for New Year's). The machine gave me its version of the rest:

New World box "Go Baby" series "baby wearing a costume ..." was the theme!

Body that is 15 centimeters in height to be able to display along with the 1/6 figure is very cute!

While wearing a costume modeled after a rabbit fluffy, this time hard core style equipped with heavy machine guns and gas masks!

Also accessories such as anti-noise earphones and Tactical vest, gem of attention to detail that sticks!

I guess that suffices for what, but it barely scratches the surface of why. The action figure boutiques of Tokyo and Hong Kong have always been curious barometers of network culture's memetic undercurrents. They have a genius for uncovering lost Bronsons ready to be revived in a form that can stand on top of your television. After 9/11 they engaged in an almost real-time conversion of grainy photos of secret operatives on the ground in Spin Boldak hunting for Gandalf into the ultimate 1/6-scale adventure team. Perhaps now they are actually anticipating the newest additions to our semiotic pantheon before they exist in any other form.

Or perhaps the artist behind this strange figure has, knowingly or subconsciously, tapped into some archetypal truth we don't ourselves perceive, encoding one of the seminal paradoxes of our identity: our romance of infantilized violence as one of the faces of freedom. Or maybe this kid isn't old enough to sing "I don't like Mondays."

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Secret sentinels and invisible foragers

I have not posted much here over the past year, focused on a rather consuming longer project. That project is on the right side of being done, and I am going to endeavor to breathe some fresh life into this forum. Being part of a group blog where most of the other participants have wandered off can be a weird undertaking at times, but solitary musing has its merits.

This morning I was working on a segment of that longer project in which a group of contemporary American revolutionaries are holed up in a safe house in South Central. The setting was a house on Compton Creek, an urban waterway that feeds into the Los Angeles River. I have a fascination for urban rivers and streams, many of which are paved, or even buried under downtowns, morphed into invisible concrete veins of the weird ecological borg-nets that grow within the denser concentrations of human habitat. Those places tell us a lot about our relationship with our world.

View Larger Map

In the world of the story, the socio-political climate of American society has degenerated to a point where citizen militias sanctioned by fear-mongering government leaders patrol the streets in the name of homeland security. In some cases, they are even allowed to operate extraterritorially. So imagine my surprise when, exploring the network mirror of the real-world place of my fictional safehouse, where a pair of thieves turned social bandits turned revolutionaries are hiding from the vigilante militias, I turned on Street View and found a picture of a cowboy, on horseback, checking his Blackberry.

View Larger Map

We got your posse right here.

It was a weird thing, as if my objectively fantastic narrative were infiltrating my reality. Or, more accurately, the weirdness of reality was wriggling its way into my story.

So I went for a walk, down the street to a very similar urban waterway in my own neighborhood in Austin. Past the birdhouse facsimiles of the great buildings of the world, real and imaginary, through the empty lots where people forage for fallen pecans under the old trees, past the cell tower that has been condo-ized by the multi-family nests of monk parakeets descended from escaped pets of the 1960s, past the ruins of the old Exxon tank farm and the beautifully tagged abandoned freight cars, down Jain Lane, through the woods where drifters camp in the dense understory between the freeway, the railroad tracks, and the creek. The creek where people dump their old tires, and this morning a trio of urban fisherman were harvesting nightcrawlers from the muck that follows a much-needed three-day rain.

A few weeks back on this same walk, I found a curious object lying in the grass between sidewalk and curb. A single cufflink embossed with the federal eagle and the words "PRESIDENTIAL RETREAT—CAMP DAVID." This struck me as an unlikely thing to find anywhere, let alone at the edge of an industrial neighborhood across the street from a burned-down puteria and next door to an oil truck corral. The cufflink ended up in my pocket, a semiotic pecan harvested for addition to one of the terrariums we have created to curate the tangible mindscape of life here in the inter zonas of the American edgeland [see pic at top of page].

Over the holidays, one of my neighbors, a wise veteran of several decades of wars of mental liberation who has lived in these parts for a lot longer than me, asked me where I had found the cufflink and told me how the now-abandoned class B office building that the sidewalk in question passed by was once, he believes, a secret government facility. He explained how, in the strange period of our recent past when a Texan was President, that little office building was always host to an array of black SUVs and sedans with tinted windows and government plates. He figured it for CIA, after researching the company with its name on the door and finding they had offices in places like Karachi and Dubai. Or maybe it was just Secret Service, keeping a stable of vehicles in one of the places the President regularly visited—his sometime hometown.

It's an outlaw skatepark now. But, like anyplace, if you look closely enough, the secret agents may have left behind clues. Encrypted sigils, encoding Easter eggs for you to reimagine the world in which you live.