AuthorJustin Boland

TAZ History: Kowloon Walled City

“There were only two rules for construction: electricity had to be provided to avoid fire, and the buildings could be no more than fourteen stories high, because of the nearby airport.”

Old photograph of the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong.

When I was 17, I started constantly re-reading Hakim Bey’s TAZ, or as I like to call it, “His Only Good Book.” I had no problem with Jonathan Kozol, but Peter Lamborn Wilson builds a sentence like Turkish Muslims build a shrine. Before I discovered the playground of “Academic Critical Theory,” from Marshall McLuhan to Manuel de Landa, TAZ was the most dense language artifact I’d ever seen.

Even then, though, I wondered why Hakim Bey didn’t discuss the only real “TAZ” I could think of – the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong. “Kowloon” means “Nine Dragons,” and you can only visit the ruins today.  After an eviction process that took years and cost billions of Hong Kong dollars, the city was destroyed in 1993 and only a park remains.  While it lasted, though, it was the closest thing to Pure Anarchy the world has seen outside of a war zone.

At it’s most overgrown peak in early 1987, Kowloon Walled City was home to 50,000 inhabitants.  From 1899, these tenacious squatters had repelled the British, the Japanese and every would-be landlord and “property owner” in the history of Hong Kong.  So why not make them the centerpiece of the book?

I’ve since come to realize it’s because he was writing a personal historical fantasy, not a tactical or practical guide. Although Kowloon truly was a Temporary Autonomous Zone, and it’s a cool idea to read and think about, it truly sucked to live there. This is best summed up by Coilhouse‘s conclusion:

Yes, the anarchistic types out there are correct when they say that the Walled City is evidence that humans can co-exist, and even thrive, without laws constantly piled on them. But it’s not that simple. After all, without massive police raids (government incarnate), the place would have probably become a mob-run tyranny. Its residents had a degree of freedom that anyone who comes home to piles of bills or endless forms can’t help but envy. They also had darkness, a lower life expectancy, filthy living conditions and huge numbers of drug addicts.

But if the Walled City is a reminder that lawlessness isn’t quite as cleanly romantic as some might think, it also reminds us that a staggering number of societies are possible “‘ and that every one of them has a price.

It’s also worth meditating on how Kowloon came to achieve their “hands-off” status: by kicking up such a profound shit-storm of noise and problems, every single time someone tried to exert their authority, that everyone in power simply gave up. As David Robinson puts it in his great Tofu Magazine piece, “British policy came to regard Walled City as something of a hornets nest “‘ best not to be kicked unless absolutely necessary.”

Perhaps the lesson here is that there are no little things when it comes to defending your freedom. If either of those words are supposed to mean something, there are no acceptable tradeoffs or reasonable comprimises.

FURTHER READING: The best narrative summary is from Coilhouse, and the Wiki is surprisingly dense.  My Father Lived in Kowloon City, and the hilariously mis-translated but quite interesting story of a Japanese expedition into the city the week before it was demolished in 1993. If you’re interesting in more photos, more information, and more pages to scroll through, then say hello the Skyscraper Forum, who have collected pretty much all there is to know in one thread.

Three images from an adventure 1 week before the city was demolished

Ultraconserved Sequences: The Core Code of DNA?

DNA Spiral

Funny thing about DNA science: when huge breakthroughs get proclaimed, they generally only lead to more questions and collapse into hype upon any serious scrutiny.? Likewise, when baffling new mysteries are announced, they tend to point the way towards a fuller understanding of the DNA cipher. Case in point — this weekend’s headline, Mysterious DNA Found to Survive Eons of Evolution.

The precise term is “ultraconserved sequences,” and as one observer on the RI forum eloquently summarized it, “this mutation-free DNA has shared eveolutionary benefits through out the entire class Mammilia without producing a visible or identifiable shared characteristic.” More meat from the article itself:

…about 500 regions of our DNA have apparently remained intact throughout the history of mammalian evolution, or the past 80 million to 100 million years, basically free of mutations. The researchers call these mystery snippets “ultraconserved regions,” and found that they are about 300 times less likely than other regions of the genome to be lost during the course of mammalian evolution.? “These regions seem to be under intense purifying selection – almost no mutations take hold permanently,” said researcher Gill Bejerano.

Technoccult readers might also be interested in the lucid heresy of Dr. Andras J. Pellionisz, author of the Fractogene website. This new discovery connects quite perfectly with the Pellionisz theory that genes aren’t a sequential list of instructions but rather a fractal and iterative template for organic growth. I would also highly recommend the work of Chris King, who’s been making the same assertion about the fabric of the entire universe.? He recently published a dense but readable 7 page summary of his work, Why the Universe is Fractal, that’s worth printing out and chewing over.

Sunday’s EsoZone Photo Feed

I’ll be updating this all day until it’s monday…and monday will surely bring a flood of digital content.? Meanwhile, if you’d like to get something thrown up here, get in touch.

Ben Mack and Diabolus Rex

Ben Mack and Rex Church…or: “Marketing and Satanism: Two Great Tastes That Belong Together.” I was especially interested in the presentations from these two fine gentlemen.? Rex was presenting the details of his Ragnarok Engine, which is apparently a “black radionics” device . Ben Mack was much more subdued: he’s just going to be summoning an elephant in the middle of the Lounge area and killing a woman named Liz Boswell in front of everyone there.

Speaking of marketing, has everyone seen these glowing endorsements from the media? Great stuff!

‘This is Burning Man for people who don’t like crowds – or light.’ – The Portland Tribune

‘A three-day summit in Portland that will mark an unprecedented concentration of self-importance and pseudo-intellectualism.’ – Willamette Week

Chris Titan using Ikipr\'s EEG MIDI Interface at EsoZone

Chris Titan testing out Ikipr’s f’ing awesome EEG MIDI Interface. Apparently this photo was taken in the tunnels under Disneyland, but Wes Unruh insisted this was actual EsoZone footage and I trust him. We’ve covered Ikipr’s strange device before: read it here. Technoccult readers would also be interested in a similar technology being used to pull off — no joke — telepathic DJ sets.

Badass Motherfucker

TAZ History: Mound Bayou, Mississippi

A Short History of Mound Bayou

I’ve been collecting a history of Temporary Autonomous Zones. I’m grateful to Hakim Bey for the conceptual phrase, but his history was more romantic than tactically useful…and after all, he is something of a pedo. So in honor of the TAZ going down right now in PDX — YOU KNOW ABOUT ESOZONE, YES?? — I’ll be sharing some of the best stories this weekend.

One of my favorite corners of Southern History was an all-black community hidden in Northern Mississippi. The story of Mound Bayou stretches across centuries and winds through everything from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement. Sadly, Mound Bayou exists almost nowhere online. The Wikipedia is shallow filler, and most of the online histories are short and sloppy.

Isaiah Montgomery and Ben Green founded Mound Bayou in 1887, but the story begins with Montgomery’s father, Ben, who was a slave on the David Bend plantation. For most folks alive today, our images of a plantation are based on Roots, but things were very different at Davis Bend. It was owned by Joeseph Davis (the brother of Confederate president Jefferson Davis) and he was heavily inspired by the “socialist utopianism” of an obscure thinker named Robert Owen.

As a side note, Technoccult readers might be interested to know that “Owen insisted he could communicate with great minds of the past by means of electricity.” The precise details are lost to history, but it should be noted Owens was unusually blunt after death, telling Spritualist mediums who summoned him “Oh! How you have misunderstood the laws which connect spirit with spirit…you will never understand these things…”

David Bend was an experiment in education and empowerment, and yes, I do realize how absurd that sounds when I’m still talking about white people owning slaves. Rather than draconian dormitory conditions, though, Joeseph Davis encouraged his slaves to educate themselves and even own businesses. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Davis sold his land holdings to Ben Montgomery, who had run the plantation store. The price was $300,000 in gold, and with that David Bend became one of the first autonomous black communities in the South.

The Owen-inspired focus on learning and skills carried into Mound Bayou, especially when Booker T. Washington got involved later on. This isn’t just a look into the past, though: I think that Mound Bayou has a signifigant lesson to offer us here in 2008. During the many “exodus” movements which happened throughout the history of both Davis Bend and Mound Bayou, the Montgomery family was adamant about building a strong foundation instead of leaving for the mere promise of something better. Most importantly, the education they focused on was agricultural tech and self-sufficiency techniques:

Through outlets like the town’s newspaper, The Demonstrator (1900), Mound Bayou promoted education as an essential path to community survival, in particular vocational education in scientific agriculture through the Mound Bayou Normal and Industrial Institute.

Here in 2008, John Robb, one of my favorite Big Thinkers and the author of Brave New War, has been doing an amazing series of short, potent articles revolving around global systems collapse and the concept of the Resilient Community. Although fairy tales like Gabriele D’Annunzio taking over Fiume are beautiful, they’re not realistic or sustainable solutions. Mound Bayou is a model that lasted, and it was based on smart design and hard work, not poetry and wine.

Best Site I Found in 2008: AfriGadget, the Low-Tech Goldmine

So far I’ve been blown away by pretty much every single bit of content on AfriGadget. It’s a guided tour of low-tech (and no-tech) solutions to basic life necessities in a total poverty environment.? It’s a serious education, from converting dumpsites into farms, to greywater recycling gardens, electronics projects like DIY stage lights and fundamental skills like handmaking tools when you’re 20,000 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart. There’s even coverage of digital media entrepreneurs in Bamako, Mali (which is home to some of the world’s greatest musicians, by the way). I was also keenly interested in the DIY car security system…using a mobile phone.

SMS Phone Based Car Alarm

It’s an amazing window into another way of life full of vibrant photography, but knowing how to build an evaporation-powered cooler is a skill that transcends the pretty pictures, right?? I know that Technoccult reaches a global audience of empowered future mutants, so if anyone in or near the Mother Continent wants to get involved, here’s how to get started.

Creation Science Wiki: Behold the LULZ

Visit the Creation Science Wiki

For the first 10 minutes I spent bouncing around this website, I assumed it had to be a joke.? The internets have provided us with the too-funny to be real antics of the Landover Baptist Church, and the too-real to be funny hatred of the Westboro Baptist Church. However, the Creation Science Wiki is a very earnest and straight-faced contribution to the field of…well, polite euphemisms have never come easily for me.

They offer a very classical version of Creationism, complete with charts detailing the Biblical age of the Earth, detailed discussion on the Center of the Cosmos, our 6000 year old Universe, and the inspirational story of Robert Gentry, whose career as a nuclear physicist convinced him to become a Young Earth creationist.? (Apparently, this is not a typical path for nuclear physicists to take.) It’s also a wealth of hilarious quotes:

“The age of the universe is far beyond what a typical creation scientist would countenance. In response several young universe creation cosmologies have been proposed.”

Anyways, I don’t present this as smug mockery.? You owe it to yourself to get into an altered state and really immerse your head in this material…suspend your disbelief and open yourself up to the “What If.” It’s fun.

To really up the ante, consider making the pilgrimage to the Creation Museum over in Kentucky. For a less theological and reality-intensive version of the trip, check out The Anatomy of Gummi Bears and Balloon Animals.

September 29, 2008: A Weird Kinda Day.

DNC 2008 memorial police shirt beat the crowds

First of all, there’s the nearly unbelievable story of the Denver Police Union’s commemorative T-Shirts from the 2008 Democratic National Convention.? There’s a caricature cop with a club, and the caption “WE GET UP EARLY, to BEAT the crowds” — seriously.? Here’s the story courtesy of Denver’s ABC affiliate station…and it had to be Channel 7, right?? It’s been that kind of day:

dow closes at 777

Like the Universe had to rub it in? The lead quote everywhere is from Barney Frank…he’s got a different context in mind but it’s remarkably appropriate: “One of the Truly Great Coincidences in the History of Numerology” The law of averages recieved a further blow when the markets released their closing statistics: “Dow plunges over 7%, S&P over 8%, Nasdaq over 9%” — but before jumping to occult conclusions, let me recommend two great reads from back when Rigorous Intuition was really dropping gems: The Banality of the Weird and most of all, The Higher Coincidence.

Paul Davies, Wil McCarthy and Alien Nanotech Probes

Late-night viewing of some “morphing UFO” footage has brought me back to a concept that’s always fascinated me: a Universe swarming with nano-scale ET intelligence.? This could mean anything from tiny spaceships, to Earth itself being a high-tech, alien-scripted “stage” where what we perceive as dead matter is anything but.

“The tiny probes I’m talking about will be so inconspicuous that it’s no surprise that we haven’t come across one. It’s not the sort of thing that you’re going to trip over in your back yard. So if that is the way technology develops, namely, smaller, faster, cheaper and if other civilizations have gone this route, then we could be surrounded by surveillance devices.”

That’s Paul Davies, thinking out loud along the same lines. (For more excellent brainfood from Davies, check out his recent 2007 Scientific American article, Are Aliens Among Us? — which is focused on microbial and nanoscale lifeforms, not shapeshifters posing as human.)

Although it remains mostly experimental and speculative, humans have worked out the mechnics of nanoscale engineering to a remarkable degree.? Decades ago, the concept of matter being able to change it’s fundamental properties instantly could only be attributed to magic and sorcery, but now it’s downright normal.? From the visionary Wil McCarthy’s classic article, Ultimate Alchemy:

Electrons that are part of an atom will arrange themselves into orbitals, which constrain and define their positions around the positively charged nucleus. These orbitals, and the electrons that partially or completely fill them, are what determine the chemical properties of an atom – such as what other sorts of atoms it can react with, and how strongly.

This point bears repeating: The electrons trapped in a quantum dot will arrange themselves as though they were part of an atom, even though there’s no atomic nucleus for them to surround. Which atom they resemble depends on the number of excess electrons trapped inside. What’s more, the electrons in two adjacent quantum dots will interact just as they would in two real atoms placed at the equivalent distance, meaning the two dots can share electrons between them – they can form connections equivalent to chemical bonds. Not virtual or simulated bonds, but real ones.

Now we’ll take it a step further: Quantum dots needn’t be formed by etching blocks out of a quantum well. Instead, the electrons can be confined electrostatically by electrodes whose voltage can be varied on demand, like a miniature electric fence around a corral. In fact, this is the preferred method, since it permits the dots’ characteristics to be adjusted without any physical modification of the underlying material. We can pump electrons in and out simply by varying the voltage on the fence.

This type of nanostructure is called an artificial or designer atom, because it can be manipulated to resemble any atom on the periodic table. It’s not a science-fictional device, but a routine piece of experimental hardware used in laboratories throughout the world.

Also check out the “free multimedia edition” of Wil McCarthy’s book-length (and excellent) expansion on this topic, Hacking Matter.

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