MonthJuly 2013

Burning Man Invades Afghanistan

Burning Man in Afghanistan

In the 1970s, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon proposed the First Earth Battalion, an attempt to apply counter cultural currents of the time to the U.S. military. Now there’s the Synergy Strike Force:

Warner held the lease on the Taj, and he ran it with the help of an Afghan man, a former shepherd turned beekeeper turned tobacconist turned pool cleaner turned guesthouse manager named Mehrab. By design, the Taj sat “outside the wire,” beyond the security perimeter of the nearby coalition airfield. It was not only a place to drink and flop but also a kind of grand social experiment—an outpost of the Burning Man ethos in the Afghan desert.

What Warner meant when he called the Taj a “Burner bar” was that it operated, in part, according to a barter system. One of the standing rules at the guesthouse was that any expat could exchange information for booze. In a war zone where so many different agencies, companies, and contractors passed like wary ships in the night, one of the biggest problems was that no one could coordinate knowledge. No one, that is, except maybe a bartender. Under the banner of “Beer for Data,” Warner had turned the Taj into a major clearinghouse for information in Jalalabad. It accumulated by the terabyte on his hard drives: construction plans, hydrology surveys, health-clinic locations, election polling sites, names of farmers, number of trees on their farms, number of acres. What Warner collected he then passed on to the United Nations, the Pentagon, and anyone else who asked for it.

Full Story: Pacific Standard: The Merry Pranksters Who Hacked the Afghan War

(via Paul Graham Raven)

Here’s an ABC News interview with Warner:

Pentagon Bracing for Public Dissent Over Climate and Energy Shocks

Nafeez Ahmed writes for the Guardian:

Why have Western security agencies developed such an unprecedented capacity to spy on their own domestic populations? Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis – or all three.

Full Story: Guardian Earth Insight: Pentagon bracing for public dissent over climate and energy shocks

(via Brainsturbator)

The “Mindstyle” of Pseudo-counter Culturalism in the Tech Industry, in 1993 and Today

Michael Stevenson revisits the “Mondo 2000 vs. Wired” of the early 90s to compare it to the contemporary blogger and startup culture:

The co-optation argument, however, fails to recognize a subtle but important difference between Mondo’s ‘rebel cool’ and that found in previous subcultures. Where subcultures are typically conceived of as ‘outsider’ scenes, from those in the counterculture that consciously ‘dropped out’ of mainstream society to more recent outsider scenes like punk and rave culture, the subversive computer culture Mondo proclaimed to represent was different. To borrow a key theme from Alan Liu’s book The Laws of Cool, Mondo’s cyberculture is best described as a scene of insiders-outside and outsiders-inside. The ideal subversive computer culture was something simultaneously inside and outside of mainstream, corporate America – for example, the corporate- and state-employed hackers and cyberpunks that Mondo imagined to be driving a social and cultural revolution from “inside the belly of the beast,” as Robert Anton Wilson wrote in the magazine’s first issue.

Wired’s style was similarly built on this contradictory positioning. Think, for example, of its portrayals of tech CEOs as rogue upstarts, as outsiders bringing about a subversive future from inside the system. This was also the essence of how Wired itself was imagined and operated – as an independent magazine that would infiltrate and revolutionize the mainstream publishing industry (on this, see especially Gary Wolf’s history of Wired, in which he often points out Louis Rossetto’s ambivalent relationship with his traditional publishing ‘peers’). This was not a co-optation of Mondo’s style, but an elaboration of its outsider-inside identity.

Full Story: webcultures.org: Cybercultural “mindstyles” circa 1993 and 2013

(via John Ohno)

See also:

The Californian Idealogy

Silicon Valley’s Anti-Capitalism-Capitalism

(Disclosure: I write for Wired)

OMNI Prepares to Reboot

“The greatest science magazine of all time will be back soon,” according to the Twitter account Omni Reboot, which links to omnireboot.com and omnireboot.tumblr.com.

This reboot follows the annoucement that an OMNI art book and gallery tour is on the way. The new site appears to be backed by Jerrick Ventures, which runs Geek Room, and the Guccione Collection.

It’s an interesting situation given that no one knows who actually owns OMNI at this point.

Fearing Leakers, Russia Reverts to Typewriters

USA Today reports:

“After the scandal with the spread of secret documents by WikiLeaks, the revelations of Edward Snowden, reports of listening to Dmitry Medvedev during his visit to the G20 summit in London, the practice of creating paper documents will increase,” an unidentified FSO source tells Izvestia.

One key reason for using typewriters is that each creates its own unique “signature” that can be traced, the newspaper says.

Full Story: USA Today: Spooked by NSA, Russia reverts to paper documents

Current 93’s David Tibet Shares His Life Story

David Tibet of Psychic TV and Current 93 shared his life story recently with Dazed & Confused magazine:

I was born in Malaysia in 1960. Paradise gained. In 1970, I left for England, where I attended an all-boys boarding school. Paradise not only lost but then packed with the sex of ghosts and kicked into the bonefire. Welcome to NeverLand.

What drove me on then: I loved CS Lewis, Tolkien, Taoist temples, the New Testament, MR James1, Christian apocalyptic, the apocryphal gospels, Aleister Crowley and Qabalah. All this before my balls dropped. I discovered the apocryphal gospels through MR James. I discovered Crowley through buying his Diary of a Drug Fiend at Kuala Lumpur airport when I was 11. The other boys at the school were frightened by my reading matter. Crowley wasn’t big with corduroy boys. My post was opened by the headmaster there; he was later sacked for playing a little too freely with his wards. Hop and skip into the Bad PicNic, made worse by the school being extensively haunted. Welcome to Old England.

After leaving university, I had a brief dalliance with the often dysfunctional family (sic) of Psychic TV2, which was briefly fun and then not. I was impelled to create a music that would channel all my obsessions. So HeyHo, Current 933.

Full Story: Dazed Digital: Your History: David Tibet

(via Ales Kot)

The New “Warrior Cop” is Out of Control

Occupy Portland
The iconic Occupy Portland photograph by The Oregonian‘s Randy L. Rasmussen

You may have seen this article already, but it’s worth a read if you haven’t. Over the years I’ve linked to a lot of Radley Balko’s coverage of the over the top use of SWAT teams in the U.S., including his excellent paper Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America.

But things have progressively gotten worse. Now he has a book out on the subject. Here’s an excerpt about police killing dogs:

Toward the end of the 2000s there were hints that the public was beginning to want a change, though that desire could manifest in unexpected ways. A former colleague at the Cato Institute, Tim Lynch, has told me that when he gives talks about the Waco raid, he finds that people are somewhat sympathetic to the argument that the government overreacted, but that they still can’t get past the weirdness of the Branch Davidians themselves—their stockpile of weapons and the claims of sexual abuse and drug distribution in the community. Even the children who died are sometimes dismissed with guilt by association. But when he mentions that the ATF agents killed the Davidians’ dogs, Lynch tells me, people become visibly angry. I have found the same thing to be true in my reporting on drug raids.

At first, that may seem to indicate that people callously value the lives of pets more than the lives of people. But the fact that killing the dog during these raids has become nearly routine in many police agencies demonstrates just how casually those agencies have come to accept drug war collateral damage. When I started logging cop-shoots-dog incidents on my blog (under the probably sensational term “puppycide”), people began sending me new stories as they happened. Cops are now shooting dogs at the slightest provocation. As of this writing, I’m sent accounts of a few incidents each week.

It’s difficult to say if this is happening more frequently. There are no national figures, and estimates are all over the map. One dog handler recently hired to train a police department in Texas estimates there are up to 250,000 cop-shoots-dog cases each year. That seems high. In 2009 Randal Lockwood of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he sees 250 to 300 incidents per year in media reports, and he estimates that another 1,000 aren’t reported. The Indianapolis Star reported that between 2000 and 2002 police in that city shot 44 dogs. A recent lawsuit filed by the Milwaukee owner of a dog killed by cops found that police in that city killed 434 dogs over a nine-year period, or about one every seven and a half days. But those figures aren’t all that helpful. They don’t say how many of those dogs were actually vicious, how many were strays, or how many were injured and perhaps killed as an act of mercy versus how many were unjustified killings of pets.

Full Story: Salon: “Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book”: The new warrior cop is out of control

See also: Former Police Chief: Riot Cops Make Things Worse

Kook Komix Debuts with “Mister Probert in Etherland”

Kook Komix by Juan Ochoa and Brendan Simpson

Juan Ochoa revealed the first installment of Kook Komix today: Mister Probert in Etherland. Juan is working with Kook Science — which includes Technoccult alum Brendan Simpson — on this project.

Here’s some background on Probert, from Brendan:

Who was Mark Probert? By his own accounting, he was a drop-out and a drifter, skipping from the Merchant Marines to horse jockeying, serving a stint as hotel bellhop then as a Vaudevillian song-and-dance man, before finally settling into his role as a “Telegnostic from San Diego”. Mr. Probert is scarcely known today, but, in his time, his “sleeping psychic” mediumship was the prime link between the later days of California Spiritualism and the nascent Ufology of the post-war period, and he served as forerunner to all the Space Brother contactees who soared to prominence in the early years of the 1950s. Probert saw himself as ultimately a humble servant to outside forces, ever self-effacing, quite unlike many of those he later inspired, and alway offering all credit to the voices he believed he channelled, and to his partner and wife Irene Probert.

Full Story: Juan Ochoa: Mister Probert in Etherland

Union 2.0: How a Browser Plug-in is Organizing Amazon’s Micro-Laborers

On the “quantified work” beat:

Researchers have estimated the average wage on Mechanical Turk is just $2 an hour, and some claim that’s an overestimate. Craigslist-style scams are common, in which requesters ask for up-front payments in exchange for later rewards, then disappear. If employers decide a completed task is unsatisfactory, they can decline to pay and still keep the resulting work. As a result, workers complain that many requesters decline work simply to get out of paying.

Experts estimate Mechanical Turk sees as much as $400,000 worth of transactions every day, but despite the money, Amazon has kept a hands-off attitude to the marketplace. Workers are left to fend for themselves.

But a new tool may give Turkers a secret weapon of their own. It’s called Turkopticon, a browser plug-in that aims to turn the tables on requesters by giving workers a chance to rate employers by reliability.

Full Story: The Verge: Union 2.0: how a browser plug-in is organizing Amazon’s micro-laborers

See Also

The Quantified Man: How an Obsolete Tech Guy Rebuilt Himself for the Future

What if Your Boss Tracked Your Sleep, Diet, and Exercise?

Introducing Infrastructure Fiction

The Blood of the City

Paul Graham Raven introduces the idea of “infrastructure fiction,” a derivative of design fiction (itself somewhat related to science fiction):

No one would describe Douglas Adams as a “hard” science fiction writer, but I’ve long felt that he was better than many of his more serious contemporaries at communicating the paradoxical relationships we humans have with the world we inhabit. Near the start of the third Hitchhiker’s Guide novel, Life, the Universe and Everything (Adams, 2009), Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect observe the arrival of an unusual spacecraft (which, if I remember correctly, looks rather like a low-budget Italian bistro turned on its side) in the middle of Lords cricket ground during an important test match. This spacecraft remains unnoticed by the players, the crowd, or even the stolid BBC reporters covering the match; this is because it includes a device which generates a “Someone Else’s Problem” field, whose inventor realised that, while making something invisible is very tricky, making something look like someone else’s problem is much, much easier, as most people are predisposed to that position.

The challenge for infrastructure fiction is to dispel the Someone Else’s Problem field and reveal the elided centrality of infrastructure to pretty much everything we do. Its challenge is to explore what infrastructure means.

Full Story: Superflux: An Introduction To Infrastructure Fiction

Paul includes links to a few examples from a University of Sheffield project he was involved in, including the “City Blood” concept pictured above.

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