Tagcounter-culture

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:

A Web Comic About Steve Jobs And Steve Wozniak As Young Hippies

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Patrick Farley, the artist behind the pioneering web comic E-Sheep, has a series that started today. Steve and Steve follows the adventures of Apple Computer founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak as young, acid tripping hippies in the 70s. The ending of the prologue makes me think this may be an alternate history comic. It also displays the fascination with early hominids found in Farley’s last comic the First Word.

Punk Rock Is Bullshit

At first I wondered how this article could possibly be relevant to anyone but a youngster still discovering punk for the first time. But, although there are bits I disagree with and the snarky tone is of reminiscent of exactly what the writer is preaching against, I think it’s worth a read because of how the ideology of punk has influenced other stuff. Anarchism, activist culture, the industrial scene, indie rock and, to a certain extent, the occulture and psychonaut communties. It can be seen as the roots of modern hipsterism. Arguably, it started earlier, with the beats, or with Dada, or with something else. But that’s a conversation for another day.

John Roderick writes:

What I’m talking about is “punk rock” as a political stance, punk rock as a social movement, punk rock as a fashion trend, punk rock as a personal lifestyle brand, and punk rock as a lens of critical appraisal. The shadow of punk rock has eclipsed countless new dawns under its fundamental negativity and its lazy equation of rejection with action.

What started out as teenage piss-taking at baby-boomer onanism quickly morphed into a humorless doctrine characterized by acute self-consciousness and boring conformism. We internalized its laundry list of pseudo-values—anti-establishmentarianism, anti-capitalism, libertarianism, anti-intellectualism, and self-abnegation disguised as humility—until we became merciless captors of our own lightheartedness, prisoners in a Panopticon who no longer needed a fence. After almost four decades of gorging on punk fashion, music, art, and attitude, we still grant it permanent “outsider” status. Its tired tropes and worn-out clichés are still celebrated as edgy and anti-authoritarian, above reproach and beyond criticism. Punk-rock culture is the ultimate slow-acting venom, dulling our expectations by narrowing the aperture of “cool” and neutering our taste by sneering at new flavors until every expression of actual individualism is corralled and expunged in favor of group-think conformity. […]

The truth is, if there really was an Illuminati bent on controlling the world through a secret government, they couldn’t have done a better job of defanging the youth movement than by introducing the self-negating, life-consuming, ignorance-propagating, lethargy-celebrating, divisive and controlling, fashion-based ideology of punk rock into the mainstream. It was basically the crack epidemic of rock culture.

Full Story: Seattle Times: Punk Rock Is Bullshit

(via Joshua Ellis)

It might be worth comparing punk with the hacker ethos, which for the most part embraced making money and building useful tools, but whose impact on the world is also debatable.

Alex Burns on the Creation of The Book of Oblique Strategies

Alex Burns, who was editor of Disinformation from 1998 to 2008, has made his work The Book of Oblique Strategies available online as a free PDF. It’s not so much a work on Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s famous deck. Alex describes it as a channeled work in the vein of Aleister Crowley’s Book of Lies.

In addition to the work, Alex has explained how he came to write it and its significance to him. I don’t really understand the work itself and haven’t read the list of prerequisites that Alex suggested. But I appreciate the insight into Alex’s life and work and think anyone else who was shaped by Disinfo during his tenure as editor will appreciate it as well. Characteristic of Alex’s work at Disinfo, the write-up is more link dense Memepool and contains a huge number of references connecting seemingly disparate people and ideas.

My life changed dramatically in the next month. I hit a series of simultaneous inflection points or a Black Swan event cascade that overshadowed the document. REVelation Magazine folded and could not publish my interview with the late ethno-botanist Terence McKenna. 21C Magazine folded and could not publish my interview with space migration advocate Marshall Savage. The real estate sold out the rental house from beneath us. The relationship broke up. The 20th anniversary loomed of my mother’s death in a car accident on 28th March 1978. I experienced a period of referential ideation and had a nervous breakdown that my family helped me to recover from. I then struggled to pull together freelance magazine articles. When reconciliation was impossible with my former girlfriend, I attempted suicide (which influenced a later article on the Nine Inch Nails album The Fragile). A few months later I started to correspond with Richard Metzger and to write for the Disinformation alternative news site. I attended an academic seminar on process philosophy. Sean Healy invited me to This Is Not Art. I negotiated re-enrolling in my undergraduate degree on film and politics. Hence, the ‘Ordeals of Transmutation Fire.’

Alex Burns: The Book of Oblique Strategies

The Search for the Woodstock Babies

Woodstock

From the AP back in 2009:

Welcome to middle age, Woodstock Baby – if you’re really out there.

The babies reportedly born at the Woodstock festival 40 years ago remain the most enduring mystery from that chaotic weekend that defined a generation. Depending on the source, there was one birth on that patch of Sullivan County farmland between Aug. 15-17, 1969. Or two. Or three. Or none.

AP: Born at Woodstock? Gave birth at Woodstock?

(Photo by Mark Goff)

Generation Make

Urban Farm Store by maggiekate

William Deresiewicz tries his hand pinpointing what defines the Millennial Generation:

Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business. Every artistic or moral aspiration — music, food, good works, what have you — is expressed in those terms.

Call it Generation Sell.

Bands are still bands, but now they’re little businesses, as well: self-produced, self-published, self-managed. When I hear from young people who want to get off the careerist treadmill and do something meaningful, they talk, most often, about opening a restaurant. Nonprofits are still hip, but students don’t dream about joining one, they dream about starting one. In any case, what’s really hip is social entrepreneurship — companies that try to make money responsibly, then give it all away.

My take is that it’s perhaps not as much about selling stuff – though working in marketing and advertising has become sort of glorified – as it is about making stuff. We’ve seen a big rise in maker culture, crafting, urban farming, food carts (called food trucks outside of Portland), steampunk, a resurgence in print magazines (Coilhouse, Dodgem Logic) etc. A lot of the excitement is about making physical things, but making apps, websites and events is popular as well.

It is noteworthy thought that modern counter cultures seem to have business models built right in. As I’ve written before, bike culture is big business and a cottage industry of books and DVDs sprung up around the 9/11 Truth movement (I think these things have become more coopted than they were when I wrote that column in 2007, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post).

Deresiewicz only just touches on one important thing: the tendency he identified isn’t actually limited to millennials – it’s infected culture as a whole, at least in middle class North America (I’m reminded of this commentary by Gustavo Arellano who points out that none of this is actually new for Latin families living in the U.S). As I keep saying, this seems to be more of a broad cultural shift rather than a generational difference.

Update: Looks like TechCrunch has a similar take.

(Photo by maggiekate)

RIP Brian Barritt, Leary’s Collaborator on the 8 Circuit Model

Brian Barritt

The writer Brian Barritt was a lusty, Pan-like figure who sat at the heart of the counter-culture for over 50 years. A friend and collaborator to such notables as Timothy Leary, William Burroughs, Alex Trocchi and Youth of Killing Joke, he was particularly active in the Beatnik, psychedelic, Krautrock and rave scenes.

Brian Sydney Barritt was born in Coventry in 1934, and his early childhood shaped by the Blitz. Part of the roof of his home was lost during a bombing raid, while his school was destroyed, interrupting his early education.

His education ended when he left Broadheath School in Foleshill, Coventry at 15. He worked briefly at the local Jaguar factory, where he upholstered seats on the Jaguar XK120s, before he joined the Merchant Navy. His late teenage years, spent in ports and brothels from Japan to the Cape of Good Hope, included a little gun-running and the start of his life-long love of opium; these years, he later claimed, were his real education.

The Independent: Brian Barritt: Counter-culture writer who collaborated with Timothy Leary

(via The Daily Grail)

Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World

Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World Nicholas Schou

In the 1960s, a group of psychedelic-loving misfits from Orange County called the Brotherhood of Eternal Love figured it could turn the entire world on to the mystical power of LSD.

It seemed like a reasonable idea at the time — the brotherhood had been founded on a shared belief in LSD’s transformative effects. But somewhere along the line, the spiritual message was squashed by thousands of kilos of smuggled marijuana and hashish.
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By decade’s end, the psychedelic messengers had sidetracked into a smuggling operation that made the group one of the largest drug cartels in America.

Instead of enlightenment, the members of the brotherhood wound up making their mark as narcotics trailblazers: They distributed Orange Sunshine, arguably the most popular “brand” of LSD in history; created the strain of pot known as Maui Wowie; and were the first to bring Afghan hash to the U.S.

For a while, they were America’s foremost counterculture outlaws, dubbed the “hippie mafia” by Rolling Stone. But the organization ultimately fell prey to greed, back-stabbing and legal heat. And when it was gone, it barely registered an acid flashback, even after biographers, documentarians and Madison Avenue began to strip mine the hippie era for material.

Yet in “Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World,” Nicholas Schou manages — amazingly — to penetrate four decades of silence.

LA Times: Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World

Buy Orange Sunshine on Amazon

(via Bruce Sterling)

Hunter S. Thompson and His Gonzo Tapes

We still aren’t entirely sure about Hunter S. Thompson. His personal life has certainly been exhumed, er, to death, thanks to the post-suicide cottage industry of biographies, personal reminiscences and documentaries that have sprung up like dandelions around a gravestone. We do know, for example, that Thompson was a philanderer and a mean drunk on occasion, and that he had trouble setting things down on paper as the years progressed and substance abuse clouded his beautiful mind. And yet when it comes to the work itself — that half-mad hybrid of sharp reportage and venomous rhetoric — mysteries still abound.

When discussing his own creative process, Thompson could be very cagey indeed. For years, readers have speculated about the fact-vs.-fiction conundrum that lies at the heart of 1971’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Doug Brinkley, Thompson’s friend and executor of the author’s estate, has in the past referred to the book as a novel. In his movie adaptation, Terry Gilliam literalized the book’s beastly hallucinations and turned Thompson’s terrifying thought-dreams into a kind of Tex Avery nightmare. When I interviewed Thompson in 2002, he danced around the subject of factual accuracy with digressive charm, a familiar feint whenever someone tried to dig into the marrow of his most famous works.

But for years there have been murmurings about a skeleton key: cassette tapes, thousands of them, that would unlock the mystery and allow us to tease out the truth from Thompson’s Boschian mind trips. Alex Gibney received permission from the Thompson estate to use the tapes for his documentary Gonzo, the best and most insightful Thompson documentary by a wide margin. And now we have The Gonzo Tapes, a companion box set that contains hours of the cassettes spread across five CDs. For anyone but the most fervent Thompson heads, The Gonzo Tapes is a mighty tough trawl. The fidelity of the recordings, which span the years 1965 to 1975, is truly crappy, and given that Thompson often liked to play records in the background while recording, it sometimes takes a Herculean effort to discern what the hell is going on. You have to lean in a bit to catch the nuggets.

(via LA Weekly: Hunter S. Thompson and His Gonzo Tapes

(via Professor Hex)

Art Spiegelman Wants a Blood Test

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“Sipping from a glass of white wine and secretly itching for a cigarette (he later admitted), Art Spiegelman glibly entertained a gaggle of British adult comic-book fans. We were all in a small theatre at London’s Institute for Contemporary Arts, where Spiegelman explained his rationale for what is perhaps one of his most shocking drawings from the 1970s: a decapitated man getting fucked in the neck.

“I did the most vile comics I could possibly think of, because I thought that’s what underground comics were all about,” he said with an unapologetic shrug. He then admitted that Robert Crumb, a comic artist renowned for testing the limits of taste in his own drawings, banned him from his house in San Francisco in the 1960s. His wife was just too disturbed by that particular image.

The drawing appears in Spiegelman’s most recent effort, a new edition of “Breakdowns: A Portrait of the Artist as Young %@&*!”, created first in 1978. This book, said Spiegelman, should lend some insight into his evolution from vile cartoonist to Pulitzer Prize-winning artist and illustrator. The Pulitzer came in 1992 for “Maus”, a personal story about the Holocaust in which Jews were depicted as mice and Nazi Germans as cats. Though canonised now as an important unconventional memoir, “Maus” was originally met in 1978 with “a stunning silence”, Spiegelman said. His goal for the project, first drawn with a fountain pen, was to make readers feel like they were reading a diary. “Breakdowns” offers a trek through Spiegelman’s early work and development as a comic artist, revealing what he grappled with before “Maus”. At the lecture, Spiegelman presented slides from the book–rough, silly, strange and sometimes simple images that exemplified his mantra: “comics should be whatever you want them to be.”

(via More Intelligent Life)

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