MonthAugust 2011

Uncontacted Tribe in South America Goes Missing

here and here.) They’ve gone missing after narco traffickers wiped out the guard post protecting the tribe. Observers fear the worst.

The Brazilian guard post protecting the uncontacted Indians who were filmed from the air earlier this year has been over-run by heavily-armed men, suspected to be drug-traffickers. It has been ransacked and vital equipment destroyed.

Fears are now mounting for the welfare of the Indians after workers from FUNAI (the government’s Indian Affairs Department) found one of the traffickers’ rucksacks with a broken arrow inside. A rapid survey by government officials has shown no trace of the Indians, who made worldwide headlines in February.

Survival International: Guard post for uncontacted Indians over-run by “drug traffickers”

(via Coilhouse)

Circus Culture, Or: Why You’re Wearing Feathers Right Now

El Circo

Our story begins almost 12 years ago, in a little town in Oregon, by the name of Ashland, where a group of kids came together to start a circus performance troupe called, El Circo. The group would gain recognition within the Burning Man culture for the extravagant parties they threw at the festival, featuring lavish fire performances, a large, geodesic dome venue, and a top-notch sound system that attracted world-renowned music acts to perform there. In a 2005 San Francisco Bay Guardian article on the effect that the various groups within the Burning Man community have had on San Francisco nightlife — an impact which now extends to the entire west coast’s, and arguably global, dance culture — the writer paid particular attention to the influence of El Circo […]

That same year, just two years out of college, I stumbled into the role of production manager for a newly-formed, L.A.-based vaudeville cirque troupe called, Lucent Dossier. Through that initial involvement with Lucent I would meet many other circus groups, including El Circo, who were by then based in San Francisco along with The Yard Dogs Road Show and Vau De Vire Society. There was also March Fourth Marching Band in Portland, Clan Destino in Santa Barbara, and Cirque Berzerk, and Mutaytor in L.A. As these acts grew, the I-5 Freeway became a central artery of culture, pumping a distinct combination of art, music, fashion, and performance up and down the west coast. A social scene evolved around these circus troupes the same way the punk subculture sprang up around the bands that defined it. For lack of another term, I’ve referred to this subculture over the years simply as “circus.”

Social Creature: Why You’re Wearing Feathers Right Now

(via Coilhouse)

Now is as good a time as any to plug my wife’s tribal fusion boutique, which sells many hand-made, cruelty free feather accessories: Siphonophoria.

Jillian modeling tribal fusion head piece

OK, so this headpiece doesn’t have any feathers on it, but you get the idea…

Note: I’m on vacation until August 22, so I may be slow responding to comments or making corrections.

Cult of Zir Live at X-Day 2011

Cult of Zir live at Wisteria Campground in Pomeroy, OH July 4, 2011. Video taken by reverend SCUM!

There’s a new Cult of Zir album up at Bandcamp.

Previously: Cult of Zir Live at Pocket Sandwich (Video)

My interviews with Cult of Zir can be found here and here.

Are We On the Verge of the Next Psychedelic Explosion?

DMT the Spirit Molecule
The cover of DMT: The Spirit Molecule

I’m reading Grant Morrison’s Supergods right now, and I’ll probably have more to say on it in the future. But I’ve just passed a part in the book where he talks about the Sekhmet Hypothesis, and wanted to get some thoughts down right now.

The gist of the Sekhmet Hypothesis, as explained by Morrison, is that every 11 years culture shifts as sunspot activity waxes and wains. At one pole is “hippie” culture characterized by longer pop songs, longer hair baggy clothes, psychedelics and an emphasis on peace and love. At the other pole is punk culture, which is characterized by shorter pop songs, short hair, tight clothes, stimulants and an emphasis on anger and rebellion.

Update: Iain Spence, the originator of the Sekhmet Hypothesis and author of a book on the subject left a long comment that’s worth reading. It appears, first of all, that Morrison’s punk/hippie description of the hypothesis is much oversimplified (or perhaps I misunderstood his interpretation of it, this is like a game of telephone – if you want the real scoop on the hypothesis, go to the source). Second, Spence has updated the hypothesis having admitted that he was wrong about the solar cycle aspect of it, among other things.

So it would go:

  • 1966: LSD, psychedelic rock, hippies, happenings, peace and love.
  • 1977: Punk, new wave, shaved heads, cocaine, rock shows, nihilism.
  • 1988: Rave, long electronic dance tracks, shoegaze, Brit pop, MDMA, “Peace, Love, Unity, Respect.”
  • 1999: The Matrix, nu-metal, emo, screamo, cutting going mainstream, Red Bull, Starbucks, cocaine and meth making a come back, 9/11, Law & Order.
  • 2010: Avatar, Alice in Wonderland and the “dandyishness” of the vampires of Twilight and True Blood (not sure I swallow that last part).

I could add the surge of mind fuck movies in the 90s, and their come back in the 10s, but as some readers pointed out in my earlier post on the subject, those types of movies didn’t entirely die out in the 00s. Also:

  • The 60s were also marked by outrage and protest, some of quite violent. A lot of hippies and mods wore tight clothes.
  • The late 70s and early 80s also had disco (and later house), psychedelic post-punk, butt rock, epic metal etc.
  • The 90s had the Rodney King riots, gangsta rap, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, plenty of metal, the militia movement, hyperviolent video games and movies.
  • Rave didn’t completely die out in the 90s, instead it turned into teknival with a strong emphasis on the hippie-ish psytrance wing. Burning Man grew larger than ever. Not to mention Massively multiplayer online role playing games and Second Life. Tool put Alex Grey’s art on their album cover and his career exploded. Daniel Pinchbeck sold a bazillion books. And what about the popularity of bands like Radiohead, Coldplay and Muse? A bit more underground, but what to make of doom metal, dubstep and BPitchControl, or the hipster cred of Arthur Magazine?

It’s really hard for me to accept that “punk” is the opposite of “hippie.” The 60s counterculture wasn’t always peaceful and non-violent, and the punks, with their love of Jamaican music, antiwar songs and their vegan and vegetarianism were a lot more hippie-ish than many gave them credit for.

And yet…

It’s hard, given the number of exceptions to the formula, to swallow the idea that there’s a real, society-wide pull between punk and hippie every 11 years. Others have critiqued historicity before, and I don’t need to go there.

But there may be pattern of rising and falling tides of psychedelia, perhaps accompanied by a sense of optimism and energy that eventually dissipates. The 60s had acid, the 90s had ecstasy. And I’m hearing that DMT is becoming a common strong street drugs these days, and the new cool thing to listen to is apparently the sound of a modem slowed way down. We could be in for some weird times indeed.

Free E-Book: The Edupunks’ Guide To a DIY Credential

Edupunk

Anya Kamenetz, author of DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, has published a free e-book on DIY education. The book covers not just getting credentials online, as the title would suggest, but also topics such as deciding what to study, how to build study plans and doing research online.

The Edupunks’ Guide To a DIY Credential

(via Matt Staggs)

Digital Cut-Ups: Teaching Creative Writing with Programming

Here’s a short piece I wrote for ReadWriteWeb about a course at ITP:

So how exactly is Python programming useful in creative writing? Parrish’s course doesn’t deal with artificial intelligence, or attempts at creating narratives or creating interactive hypertext or anything like that. It covers, for lack of a better term, procedural poetry. Typically, a student takes a starting set of text, writes a Python program to modify that text and then interprets the results.

Parrish cited non-electronic procedural poetry experiments as inspirations for the course. For example, he talked about Raymond Queneau’s Cent mille milliards de poèmes, a book in which the text has been cut into strips that can be re-arranged to create nearly endless configurations:

Parrish also mentioned Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets and David Melnick’s PCOET. Parrish didn’t mention them in his talk, but the course website also mentions Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs’ work with the cut-up technique.

ReadWriteWeb: Teaching Creative Writing with Programming

See also:

My interview with Douglas Rushkoff on why YOU should learn to program

William S. Burroughs’s computer artworks – “Cybernetic Cut-ups”

Ending the Tyranny of the Lecture

In my last post I mentioned the possibility of university-level course lectures being delivered online, possibly reducing the number of jobs for college professors. But Marshall Kirkpatrick writes for ReadWriteWeb about a new high-tech approach to learning that dispenses with lectures and focuses on group discussions:

Lectures made sense before the invention of the printing press, argues Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur, but at this point in history they are far from the best way to transmit large amounts of information or to make use of face-to-face time in the classroom.

Over nearly 20 years, Mazur has developed an innovative teaching methodology and is now testing software to support its application in any classroom. The basic idea is that the bulk of information consumption should be done outside the classroom and in-class time should be spent doing guided, measured, optimized peer-to-peer discussion in order to maximize retention of knowledge. Mazur’s National Science Foundation-backed startup Learning Catalytics looks like a very cool way to facilitate that class time using web and mobile devices.

ReadWriteWeb: New Service From Harvard Aims to Replace Classroom Lectures

I’m reminded of Knewton, a company I wrote about at ReadWriteWeb, and its analytics driven tutoring software.

Free Online Artificial Intelligence Course from Stanford

I just did a brief post at ReadWriteWeb on the free online artificial intelligence class at Stanford:

The course will be taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig. The course will include online lectures by the two, and according to the course website both professors will be available for online discussions. And according to the video embedded below, students in the online class will be graded on a curve just like regular Stanford students and receive a certificate of completion with their grade.

ReadWriteWeb: Take Stanford’s AI Course For Free Online

One of the interesting things here is that you can, for the most part, get the full education of the course. You just don’t get the course credit. But maybe students at other universities could take the class and then test out of their own school’s AI course? What impact would it have on professors if universities accepted certificates like this to count towards credit toward a degree at their school?

John Robb has speculated that an Ivy League education could be provided for $20 a month. Andrew McAfee has asked what a higher education bust would actually look like. One possibility is that thousands of professors get laid off as a smaller number of more prestigious professors can teach larger numbers of students via the Internet.

You might also be interested in this collection of free lectures from the Stanford Human Behavioral Biology course (via Dr. Benway). And of course, there’s always The Khan Academy.

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