Mobilizing Vehicles for Change

Applied Magic(k) #6

printed in Arthur Magazine - #26, September 2007

Much of magic(k) has long attempted to augment our natural abilities; to provide us with a supernatural physicality to overcome the obstacles of the material world.  Nowhere is this more evident than in our efforts to move our bodies and our belongings from one place to another. Even some of the most famous illusions in stage magic have focused audience attention on bewildering levitations and miraculous transpositions.  From the ingenuity of our ancestors who recognized the unique properties of rolling discs and floating hulls, to more mystical means of mobility such as broomsticks and flying carpets, we often underestimate the magic(k) of re-location.  The banality of modern transportation not only distances us from our point of departure but also from the journey itself. Too easily we forget that vehicles are equally the means of conveyance and the agents of transmission.

Let’s face it.  Rarely do automobiles function like ordinary tools used to simply accomplish the task at hand. Quite the contrary.  Low-riders, hot rods, and pimped out SUV’s merely begin to scratch the enamel that glosses over our collective obsession with the means of transportation.  Beyond the mods and custom accessories, motor vehicles themselves become points of departure, rather than the mere carriers of goods and bodies.  With names like Cougar and Jaguar, Bronco and Mustang, Thunderbird and Skylark, cars and trucks are transformed from mere technologies into totemic objects imbued with a sense of power and identity. The Cherokee and Navajo are equally stripped of any real identity as a people and forced to participate in a fetishistic masquerade. Mercury and Saturn are likewise invoked. Even Mazda shares a name with Zoroaster’s divine King of Light, the likely religious precedent for benevolent monotheism (Persia, 7th Century BC). If we look beyond the gods and planets we see the Astro, Aerostar, and Nova (which translates in Spanish to “doesn’t go”). And let us not forget American Motor Company’s subcompact Gremlin which scratched its way into 1970’s obscurity along with its 80’s offspring the Spirit.  Indeed, the magic(k) of transportation lies buried deep in a veritable scrap yard of consumer manipulation, hollow fantasy, and a lost sense of adventure. But alas, we can salvage something of worth from amidst the rot.

Just as the introduction of the great iron horse changed the way travelers perceived time and distance, so too, are our senses manipulated by contemporary forms of locomotion.  No one can deny that we experience the world differently when we ride in a glammed-out gas-guzzling behemoth, a compact beater, or on a two-wheeled dream machine powered by our own two legs.  And fewer are denying the material effects of our choices as well.  Even the vestigial cynics of global warming  - folks like G.W. Bush and some CEOs in Detroit – are finally acknowledging the links between climate change and fuel consumption.  Perhaps this has something to do with an unpopular war that consumes nearly 400,000 barrels of oil per day just for military usage alone (approx. 144 MILLION barrels a year).  Or maybe, when automakers like Ford post record losses (nearly $12.7 BILLION) they’re finally forced to reckon with the dissatisfaction and/or guilt of the consuming citizenry.  Either way, we seem to be moving in the right direction, although we’ve still got a long way to go.

Technological innovations can carry us into a future either golden or grim depending on how they shape our realities.  We trust enough in the laws of physics and the intelligence of engineers to ensure our confidence in the ability of a great hulking chunk of metal to float speedily though the clouds and deliver us to our chosen destinations.  And rarely do we account for the great paradox of travel: our simultaneous conveyance across thousands of miles of sky while cramped practically motionless in the same small airplane seat wedged between two snoring salesmen.  With the exception of the occasional trip to the toilet, we go absolutely nowhere.  Yet, when we disembark several hours later we find ourselves in another land far from home.  Logically, of course we understand how this happens.  However, for all intents and purposes it wouldn’t really matter if the airplane were a sci-fi teleporter that took five hours to program once you were inside of it.  In fact, it’s almost too easy to imagine a futuristic teleportation station where travelers get crammed into small seats in stuffy cabins with meager entertainment options and crappy snacks as they wait for hours for the operators to adjust all the right settings to get everyone to the proper destination.

Fortunately, we’ll probably never have to endure that bleak future.  According to a de-commissioned research document funded by the US Air Force in 2004, the possibilities for teleportation are limited and fairly undeveloped. (see “Teleportation Physics Study” by Eric Davis, Federation of American Scientists)  Limited, mind you; not “impossible”, “improbable”, or even “non-existent”.  Although the report does rule out Star Trek-style teleporters as an option, it suggests the need for additional research in psychic teleportation, worm-hole manipulation, quantum entanglement, and extra-dimensional travel.  It also cites Chinese studies claiming that children have been used in double-blind and triple-blind laboratory tests to successfully teleport a variety of small objects including radio transmitters, chemically-sensitive paper, and live insects.  Sound too weird?  Maybe.  But the fact that the USAF actually funded the research is not the least bit in doubt since their spokesmen have publicly commented on the study in major news media.  But before you get too excited, experts largely agree that we’re a long ways away from any practical applications of such theoretical physics.  Still feeling a bit eager?  If so, ask yourself, “If a teleporter truly existed, would the auto industry or Big Oil welcome it with open arms?  Would it be turned into public transportation, or would it be restricted to those who could afford it at a premium? Would it be a public domain technology or would it be limited to the military for covert use long before the public was even informed?”

Don’t misunderstand.  Our aim here is not to promote a conspiracy theory about the secret existence of bizarre military technology.  After all, why wander down a murky alley of speculation, when we can cruise a stretch of established fact. Take for instance the Pentagon’s newly released “Active Denial System (ADS)”.  If the strangeness of the teleportation study caused you a minor meltdown, this one’ll really fry your brain… literally.  The ADS is a giant heat-ray mounted on a military Hummer that is intended for use as mobile crowd control by beaming out a silent, invisible wave that heats up people’s skin up to half a kilometer away.  This futuristic, sci-fi vehicle is already developed and ready for deployment in situations where people might ordinarily be subjected to water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray, and/or rubber bullets.  If you thought Hummers were repulsive before, just wait until they start showing up at your local peace rally.  Like most military technologies that eventually steer their way into the consumer marketplace, Raytheon is also manufacturing a commercial model they call the “Silent Guardian”.  Care to invoke a “Silent Guardian” for your next birthday party, BBQ, or bar mitzvah?  We called Raytheon to inquire about the purchase price (in dollars, not souls) but their “business relations development associate” has yet to give us a fixed number.

The illusion of technological neutrality is left stranded by the wayside when we consider how the vehicle so often predetermines the nature of the voyage.  Just as a train is limited to travel only where the tracks lead, so too can we predict some of the future destinations of society based on its machinations. While technology and magic(k) enhance our abilities to navigate a variety of terrain, they are not always free to embark on the path of our choosing.  As such, it appears all too important to develop the right vehicle for the right journey, both literally and metaphorically.

Last year, the Center for Tactical Magic launched the Tactical Ice Cream Unit on a west coast tour from Tijuana to Vancouver. In towns, cities, schools, universities, deserts, beaches and mountains, people heard the T.I.C.U. pumping out the jolly jams and happily sauntered over for some frosty treats and food-for-thought. Sure, the free ice cream provided an easy lure.  Even the menu of righteous propaganda helped pull people in while the truck’s aggressive bulk did little to discourage the sweet-toothed citizenry.  On the contrary, it seemed to draw people in like the Pied Piper.  It would be nice to say that folks all across the land greeted us as psychological and spiritual liberators, but this was not always the case.

Border Crossing in the TICU

From the moment the cop car first appeared in the side-view mirrors an altercation seemed imminent.  However, a new Canadian acquaintance riding along for the first time, insisted that we had nothing to worry about.  After all, we weren’t in some totalitarian police state like Canada’s neighbor to the south.  And besides, we weren’t doing anything but driving, why would the cops pull us over?

Well, the vehicle itself looks like the unlikely love-child of an ice cream truck and an armored S.W.A.T. team command van, with some revolutionary flourishes and hot-rod bravado thrown in.  Most would agree that it doesn’t appear to be your average vending vehicle.  And while it doesn’t specifically say “Tactical Ice Cream Unit” anywhere, the raised fist holding an ice cream topped with a cherry bomb might provide some clues.  So to be honest, it didn’t come as much of a surprise when, a few moments later, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police doused us with flashing lights and a loud “whoop-whoop”. Within the first 12 hours of entering Vancouver, we had been pulled over.

A young Mountie climbed out of the police cruiser and swaggered over to the driver’s side window to ask what we were doing.  We tried to explain that we were simply driving, but when that didn’t seem to satisfy, we added that we had been invited to participate in the World Urban Forum, a high-profile event sponsored in large part by the United Nations.  The rookie cop gazed with equal parts disbelief and disinterest before asking for the license and registration.  A few moments later he returned and, in a tone of voice sounding more like a command than a question, he asked to search the vehicle.  We responded by asking questions in return. 

CTM: “Can we ask why we got pulled over?” 
RCMP: “Well,… you’re driving a suspicious vehicle with California plates.” 
CTM: “OK, can we ask another question?” 
RCMP: “Sure.” 
CTM: “We’re unfamiliar with Canadian law, but in the States we’re protected against obligatory searches.  Do we have the same rights to privacy here?” 
RCMP: “Uh, yes, of course.” 
CTM: “Oh, hey!  That’s great!  In that case we’d prefer not to be searched.”
RCMP: “Ummmm….  I’ll, uh, be right back.”

The Mountie shuffled off back to the car where he consulted with an older, fatter, balder cop, before returning and telling us, “This could take a while.  BUT, you could hurry things up by letting us search the vehicle.”  We let him know that we understood he had a job to do while expressing our dismay at having to hang out and wait.  More specifically, we told him that we still had a lot of work to do before our interview with the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Company), and that it would be a shame to have to explain to the mass media why we were delayed.

RCMP: “Ummmm….  I’ll, uh, be right back.”

We waited. And we waited. And we waited.

Finally, the senior Mountie decided to get in on the action and turn up the heat.  “What are you trying to hide?  What have you got back there that you don’t want us to find?  Why aren’t you cooperating with The Law?  If you’re not doing anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to be afraid of.  Why are you disrespecting our authority?  Y’know, if we find anything on your record we can confiscate your vehicle and throw you all in jail?”

Despite his hulking mass, intimidation tactics, and an overpowering olfactory cocktail of hot dogs, aftershave, and body odor, we remained steadfast.  “We’re not doing anything wrong.  And we’re not trying to be difficult here.  But how do we know that we truly have a right to privacy unless we try to exercise it?  Obviously, you guys are cops and you will do what you want, but with all due respect, that doesn’t mean that we’ll give you permission to do it.”

RCMP: “Fine.  Then we’ll write you a ticket.”
CTM: “For what?”
RCMP: “Operating a commercial vehicle without a vendor’s license.”
CTM: “But we weren’t vending.  You didn’t see us vending.  And besides, we’re not operating the vehicle as a commercial business.”
RCMP: “Well, you can just explain that to a judge in court.”
CTM: “Sorry to laugh, but presumably you would also have to explain it to the judge in court.”
RCMP: “Unless you let us search the vehicle we have no way of knowing whether it’s operating commercially or not.  So do you want the ticket or what?”
CTM: “What could you find that would prove whether or not we’re operating commercially?”
RCMP: “Well, how do we know that you don’t have ice cream in there?”
CTM: “Oh.  Is that what this is about?  You guys want ice cream?  Sorry to misunderstand.  In the U.S. the cops would have just asked.  We’ll give you some ice cream, if you want.  But you still can’t search the vehicle.”

After another few minutes of banter, we were on the road again - us, without a ticket, and them without any ice cream.

Although the glow of our small victory has yet to fully wear off, we must sadly acknowledge that it is indeed a sorry state of affairs when exercising one’s legal rights without penalty constitutes a cause for special celebration.  And perhaps we wouldn’t have been so lucky if we were rolling rubber in a rusty coffin in some well-to-do neighborhood.  After all, the Tactical Ice Cream Unit is sort of built for this kind of thing. Although the T.I.C.U. appears to be simply a suped-up ice cream truck it can easily transform into the community-based alter-ego of the cops’ own mobile command center.  It harbors a host of high-tech surveillance devices including a 12-camera video surveillance system, acoustic amplifiers, GPS, satellite internet, a media transmission studio capable of disseminating live audio/video, and a police scanner.  If we should happen upon a civil uprising, we’re also well stocked with first-aid, water, energy bars, ponchos, and gas masks to help re-supply those in need.  And in case, one of those fancy new Hummers comes along to cook up some trouble, we’ve got plenty of cool treats to beat the heat.  Thus, the T.I.C.U. can serve as a mobile nexus for community activities. Mixing magic(k) and mirth with a pinch of mischief, the Tactical Ice Cream Unit is designed to be both provocative and empowering.  While it’s overly ambitious to think that a single truck can solve much of anything on its own, hopefully it can at least serve as yet another vehicle for change in a convoy hustling towards positive social transformation; not merely transportation but also an agent of transmission.  


The magic(k) of mobility can take on a wealth of forms.  Here are just a few exercises to get your gears turning.  As always, please let us know how it works out for you by emailing us at:

1. Police will often use mind-tricks or verbal misdirection to gain control in a situation.  It’s actually quite common for a cop to ask you to do something in a manner which sounds like an order.  “Would you please step out of your car and open your trunk now, ma’am!?”  Can you hear the tone of voice in your head?  It sounds like you have to comply, right?  Wrong!  Except at international borders, you have a right to privacy and never have to consent to a search of your car, your home, or your body (including bags, packages, backpacks, etc).  And the police can only conduct a search if they can prove “probable cause” (i.e., you left a bag of weed sitting out on your back seat in open view), or they have a warrant.  (Unless, of course you’re being served with a Section 215 order from the USA Patriot Act, in which case you not only don’t have any rights, but you’re also legally prohibited from telling anyone about it.)  So, how can one defend against such a binding spell?  Heed these magic(k) words:

    1. Remain calm and ask the cop to respect your right to privacy.
    2. State clearly that you do not consent to a search.
    3. In a motor vehicle, you are legally required to show a valid driver’s license, current registration, and, in some states, proof of insurance.  Beyond that, you are not required to answer any questions. 
    4. Do NOT lie.  Lying to a police officer is a crime that can get you into even more trouble.
    5. Do NOT physically resist even if you know the cop is abusing his/her authority.
    6. Make a note of his/her name and badge number.  (They are legally required to make this information visible and available.)  This may come in handy later, especially if you want to file a complaint or contact a lawyer.
    7. And NEVER consent to a search if you know that they’ll find something illegal.  Evidence seized during an illegal search is not admissible in court.  But if you consent, and they find something, you’re screwed.


*please note: According to our research, this is accurate information to the best of our knowledge; however, we are not lawyers, and the above does not represent legal advice, so please don’t sue us.

2. How is teleportation even theoretically possible?  You just need to think outside of the box.  Look at the illustration of the square we’ve provided.  This drawing is a 2-dimensional representation of 2-dimensional space (length x width).  If we assume that the fly in the square can only think in terms of 2-dimensions, then we see that the fly is trapped.  It is bounded by the perimeter of the square.  But if the fly can think 3-dimensionally, then it can escape by flying up from the paper in the third dimension (depth).  Now, look at the illustration of the cube.  The cube is a 2-dimensional representation of 3-dimensional space. See the fly sitting on the wall of the cube?  Depending on how you look at it, that wall is either inside the cube or outside the cube.  With a little effort you should be able to see it both ways.  Our ability to turn the cube inside-out without physically manipulating the drawing demonstrates our ability to think 4-dimensionally.  Even though nothing has changed 3-dimensionally, for the fly on the wall, this way of thinking makes the difference between being trapped on the inside, or liberated on the outside.

teleportation fly

3. A vehicle for change does not need to be anywhere near as complicated as the Tactical Ice Cream Unit.  All that is required is a bit of consideration regarding where you want to go and how you might go about getting there.  Obviously, if you’re trying to get to a city 300 miles away, riding a tricycle isn’t the easiest way to go.  Hitchhiking, jumping a train, driving, riding, or flying generally tends to be more expedient.  But if the destination is less concrete, then the mode of transportation may not be so obvious.  Look for existing forces that are already flowing in the direction you want to go, and harness them for the ride.  The right vehicle for the right journey might just be a remote-controlled car, a smokescreen, a bicycle-repair clinic, or the rolling thunder.  But it probably isn’t a giant heat-ray mounted on a Hummer.