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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:

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

Even The Upper Middle Class Are Being Priced Out Of Global Cities

Simon Kuper on how even the upper middle class are being priced out of New York City, Paris, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong:

Corporate mergers and takeovers meant global headquarters got concentrated in fewer places. Crime declined, making cities less scary. And so great cities grew richer. Fancy architects put up lovely buildings. House prices rose.

First, the working classes and bohemians were priced out. Nowadays the only ribald proletarian banter you hear inside Paris is from the market sellers, who don’t live there anymore.

That was gentrification. Now comes plutocratisation: the middle classes and small companies are falling victim to class-cleansing. Global cities are becoming patrician ghettos. In 2009, says Sassen, the top 1 per cent of New York City’s earners got 44 per cent of the compensation paid to its workers. The “super-prime housing market” keeps rising even when the national economy collapses. After Manhattan, New York’s upper-middle classes are being priced out of Brooklyn. Sassen diagnoses “gradual destruction”.

Full Story: Financial Times: Priced out of Paris

San Francisco is well on its way in this regard as well.

See also: Mocking hipsters in the service of capital

The Masked Crime Fighting Teams Of Guerrero, Mexico

warrior-state

Bernardo Loyola and Laura Woldenberg write:

On January 5 in El Potrero, a small town in the Mexican state of Guerrero, a man named Eusebio García Alvarado was kidnapped by a local criminal syndicate. Kidnappings are fairly common in Guerrero—the state, just south of Mexico City, is one of the poorest in the country and the site of some of the worst violence in the ongoing battle between the drug cartels and Mexican authorities. Guerrero’s largest city, Acapulco, is known to Americans as a tourist hot spot. It’s also currently the second most dangerous city in the world, according to a study released by a Mexican think tank in February.

Eusebio’s kidnapping, though, was exceptional. He served as the town commissioner of Rancho Nuevo and was a member of the community activist organization Union of Towns and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (UPOEG), and the brazenness the criminals showed in snatching him up pissed off his neighbors so much that they took matters into their own hands.

The day after Eusebio was abducted, hundreds of people from the nearby towns of Ayutla de los Libres and Tecoanapa decided that they could do a better job policing their communities than the local authorities. They grabbed whatever weapons they had—mostly hunting rifles and shotguns—set up checkpoints at entrances to their villages, and patrolled the roads in pickup trucks, often hiding their faces with ski masks and bandanas. Overnight, UPOEG transformed from an organization of advocates for better roads and infrastructure into a group of armed vigilantes operating without the endorsement of any branch of the government. The kidnappers released Eusebio that day, but UPOEG’s checkpoints and patrols didn’t disappear with his return. In fact, there was a groundswell of support. Five municipalities in the surrounding Costa Chica region followed suit and established their own militias. Soon, armed and masked citizens ensured that travelers and strangers weren’t allowed to enter any of their towns uninvited.

These militias captured 54 people whom they alleged to be involved in organized crime (including two minors and four women), imprisoning them inside a house that became an improvised jail. On January 31, the communities gathered on an outdoor basketball court in the village of El Meson to publicly try their detainees. The charges ran the gamut from kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking, and homicide to smoking weed. More than 500 people attended, and the trial was covered by media outlets all over the world.

Full Story: Vice: The Warrior State: The People Of Guerrero, Mexico, Have Taken Justice Into Their Own Hands

(Thanks Trevor)

Central Asia is already “Post-Apocalyptic”

post apocalyptic

Asher Kohn writes:

You don’t need burnt pastures, bleached bones, and a trickle of muddy water in order to understand the apocalypse, as much as it may help. The apocalypse, after all, is more than the destruction of an environment. The apocalypse is the destruction of not only the world, but of the worldview. The apocalypse is the disassembly of the subconscious and the dramatic unwinding of all of those subconscious preconceptions we use to even get out of bed in the morning. Living in a post-apocalyptic world is living in time beyond God.[…]

Central Asia is, both defiantly and tragically, a land without a narrative. The region, defined by Slavs + Tatars as “an area east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China known as Eurasia,” has been home to a series of axis-tilting events, and has the history to prove it. The history of Central Asia is in many ways a history of eschatologies; not a graveyard of empires but perhaps a graveyard of belief systems. The Volga Huns of course produced Attila, who annihilated Europe west of the Danube. Less than a millenium later, Hulagu Khan laid waste to Baghdad, and Tatar rulers towered over Kiev and Moscow. If Tamerlane is included in this lineup, one could say that for most of the Earth’s time since Christ, Central Asia has produced armies that have taken on an eschatological meaning in others’ narratives. Michael Hancock Parmer notes the use of a common nickname of these empire builders, remarking that a “‘Scourge of God’ is a tool of divine punishment, an atoning skin-flaying from the Lord. Apocryphally, Temujin (Genghis Khan) claimed the title for himself at the sack of Bukhara, the legend of which lives on in Uzbekistan.”

Full Story: The State: A Pleasant Post-Apocalypse

See also: Why Humans Will Survive the Next World-Ending Catastrophe

In Manifesto, Mexican Eco-Terrorists Declare War on Nanotechnology

anarchy

From Danger Room:

The group, which goes by the name Individualidades Tendiendo a lo Salvaje (ITS), posted its manifesto to anarchist blog Liberacion Total last month. The manifesto takes credit for a failed bombing attempt that month against a researcher at the Biotechnology Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. And the group promises more.

“We have said it before, we act without any compassion in the feral defense of Wild Nature,” the manifesto states. “Did those who modify and destroy the Earth think their actions wouldn’t have repercussions? That they wouldn’t pay a price? If they thought so, they are mistaken.” The group threatens more bombings against Mexican scientists because “they must pay for what they are doing to the Earth.”

A violent fringe group with anarcho-primitivist views — its name roughly translates to “Individuals Tending to Savagery,” although “Tending to the Wild” might be more exact — ITS sees technology and civilization as essentially doomed and leading humanity to an ecological catastrophe. Technology should be destroyed; humans should revert to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle; and all of this, ITS says, is for our own good. Nanotechnology is a particular scourge: Self-replicating nanobots will one day escape from laboratories to consume the Earth; and weaponization of nanotech is inevitable.

Full Story: Wired Danger Room: In Manifesto, Mexican Eco-Terrorists Declare War on Nanotechnology

See also: Terror tactics: Science in the anarchists’ cross hairs

Photo: cosmopolita / CC

The State Of Leak Sites

From Ars Technica:

WikiLeaks remains under a near financial blockade, its founder under effective house arrest after having been granted asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The group has yet to release anything as substantial as last year’s “Detainee Policies”—Balkanleaks remains one of the few “leaking sites” still going strong. Its recent insurance-key move comes precisely out of the WikiLeaks playbook.

More than two years ago, a flurry of new WikiLeaks clones sprung up around the world inspired by the world’s most famous transparency-driven organization. They had all kinds of names: QuebecLeaks, BaltiLeaks, EnviroLeaks, and more. PirateLeaks (based in the Czech Republic), BrusselsLeaks (Belgium) and RuLeaks (Russia) all did not respond to Ars’ requests for comments. […]

So how does Balkanleaks thrive where others haven’t?

Tchobanov, the site’s co-founder, boils it down to one word: Tor. It’s the open-source online anonymizing tool that’s become the de facto gold standard for hiding one’s tracks online. Balkanleaks provides instructions in Bulgarian, Serbian, Macedonian, and English, and the submission website is only available on its Tor-enabled server.

Full Story: Ars Technica Whither whistleblowing: Where have all the leaking sites gone?

The article goes on to detail the state of some other projects, including OpenLeaks and GlobalLeaks.

What Do You Know, Feminism Really DOES Work

Pamela Haag writes about a paper published last fall in the American Political Science Review about ending or reducing domestic violence against women globally:

Out of this herculean research effort, Weldon and Htun conclude that the “mobilization of feminist movements is more important for change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians” in a country, according to the APSR press release.

The authors found that these vibrant and autonomous feminist movements were the first to articulate the issue of violence against women, mobilize political will against it, and catalyze government action. Other organizations, even those with progressive leanings, tended to sideline issues perceived as being only relevant to women. […]

This is heartening news. There’s a tendency to feel hopeless in the face of the Big Trends and the analyses of the violence and degradation against women as collateral damage of what feel like almost insurmountable “larger problems” and social pathology. For example we sometimes think of violence against women as mostly a by-product of economic development and educational opportunities, or lack thereof.

Conversely, there’s a consoling tendency to think that once these economic conditions improve, violence against women will diminish naturally, as a happy consequence of other social changes.

This research concludes that the work of individuals in civil society not only makes a difference, but makes the difference in comparison to other potential but more indirect levers of social change, such as having left-leaning parties or more national wealth. Write Weldon and Htun, the “effects of autonomous organizing are more important in our analysis than women’s…representation inside the legislature or the impact of political parties. Nor do economic factors such as national wealth trump the societal causes of policy making. Although these intra-legislative and economic factors have received a great deal of attention…they are inadequate to explain the significant changes in policies on violence against women. Civil society holds the key here.”

Full Story: Big Think: What Do You Know, Feminism Really DOES Work

Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky: State of the World 2013 Highlights

The conversation is slow moving again this year, but that’s actually pretty nice. A few highlights:

  • Jon Lebkowsky: “There’s a real crisis of authority, a question whether we know what we know.”
  • Bruce Sterling: “2012 was all about K-pop and Samsung. Who can’t admire these two mushrooming efflorescences of Korean soft power and Korean hard manufacturing? They’re the New 1980s Japan.”
  • Sterling: “If the War on Terror had a winner, it’s the Qataris. Nobody ever dares to say anything mean about them. Even Israel and the USA are afraid of them, because the USA and Israel both instinctively kowtow to rich guys with TV stations.”
  • Jeff Kramer: “Our parents generation would have bought bigger houses, put down roots and settled in for the long haul, but my lizard brain keeps whispering to stay light and keep the options open.”
  • Sterling: “Americans don’t have state-supported censorship, but they do have a civil cold war, and the factions don’t talk to one another at all. There’s no open debate, there’s no discourse. There’s a little bit of room for debate within the factions but between them, there’s nothing.”
  • Lebkowsky: “I think it was easier for one artist to make a difference when there were fewer people, and fewer of them making art. And, for that matter, fewer rudders to nudge.”
  • Roland Legrand: “Therapists tell me about the increasing damage they see every day, caused by this increasing pressure to perform. The middle class is falling apart under the pressure of globalisation, technology and extreme competition.”
  • Sterling: “I find it disquieting when people want art to make a whole lot of difference. When Vaclav Havel went into politics he stopped being an artist.”

And here’s a longer excerpt from Lebkowsky, on “present shock”:

I find myself taking more breaks from the streams of information by and about my friends, reading more books and fewer activity streams. When I’m surfing online in hyperdrive mode, I feel an anxiety about all that’s happening and how to track it. Every day I get notices about so many events that are happening at once, and for every event I make, I feel I’m missing a dozen others. Is it better not to know?

I suppose I’ve been information-greedy, and greed is destructive.

Full Story: The Well: State of the World 2013: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky

Thai Buddhist Monks Struggle To Stay Relevant

The New York Times reports:

“People today love high-speed things,” he said in an interview. “We didn’t have instant noodles in the past, but now people love them. For the sake of presentation, we have to change the way we teach Buddhism and make it easy and digestible like instant noodles.”

He says Buddhist leaders should make Buddhism more relevant by emphasizing the importance of meditation as a salve for stressful urban lifestyles. The teaching of Buddhism, or dharma, does not need to be tethered to the temple, he said.

“You can get dharma in department stores, or even over the Internet,” he said.

But Phra Paisan is markedly more pessimistic about what is sometimes called “fast-food Buddhism.” He is encouraged by the embrace of meditation among many affluent Thais and the healthy sales of Buddhist books, but he sees basic incompatibilities between modern life and Buddhism.

His life is a portrait of traditional Buddhist asceticism. He lives in a remote part of central Thailand in a stilt house on a lake, connected to the shore by a rickety wooden bridge. He has no furniture, sleeps on the floor and is surrounded by books. He requested that a reporter meet him for an interview at 6 a.m., before he led his fellow monks in prayer, when mist on the lake was still evaporating.

Monks are suffering a decline in “quantity and quality,” he said, partly because young people are drawn to the riches and fast-paced life of the cities. The monastic education of young boys, once widespread in rural areas, has been almost entirely replaced by the secular education provided by the state.

Full Story: New York Times: Monks Lose Relevance as Thailand Grows Richer

(via Erik Davis)

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