Featured

» WE LOOK LIKE THE TYPE

Blickensderfer "single" element typewriter, circa late 1800s.A recent surge in interest in typewriters isn’t just about nostalgia or fetishistic hipster concerns. It’s about light, speed, focus and pleasure. It’s also about digital discontent: As our type has grown speedier and more legible, we’ve also become more legible to corporations and governments in increasingly centralized, synoptic positions.

Olivetti Lettera 22

This article of mine, which attempts to explore, without nostalgia or soft-headed technophobia, the uses and merits of typewriters and lo-fi writing tools in our increasingly ubiquitous amphetamine world of digital technology, appeared in the May 7th, 2014 edition of the East Bay Express.

» P.S.: SO LONG LOU, YOU GOT ME

by Brian Awehali

LouReedLou Reed came to my dreams last night, looking ashen and skeletal, propped up in bed like it was his last interview, only it was a monologue, and he had dark and glorious things to share. The air around him was grainy, like old newsprint, and it was getting darker fast. He was an asshole, but I loved him in dream-time with as much tenderness and ferocity as I loved him with in my waking hours.

Lou’s eyes were always exquisite: deep, dark and sad, with the intelligence, humor, love and yes, malicious intent, that he poured into decades of work, always visible around the edges. Lou often looked more bemused than amused in photos.

I never met him in the flesh. The closest I ever came to Lou was through my old friend Loretta Kazanecki, a one-time assistant at a Manhattan opthalmology office, who told me about the time Lou viciously berated her and her boss for not writing him a new contact lens prescription. Loretta said Lou was really bad about taking out his contacts at night, and that he’d leave them in for days on end, to the point where opthalmologist’s were afraid to sign off on any more of them. Nobody wanted to be the eye doctor that blinded Lou Reed. And I don’t think Loretta, scarred by the experience, could ever separate the man from his art.

That was never a problem for me. I don’t think one of the main purposes in life is to be nice, and I think Lou saved my life several times. He’s definitely the one who most convinced me to move to New York in my early 20s. As a misfit teenager stuck in Oklahoma in the late ’80s, it was Lou’s voice, his artful lyrics, and the motley universe of people he depicted in them that, more than any other, were the soundtrack to my excavation. I might have known, back then, what I didn’t want to be part of, but the universe of people and emotions Lou brought to life in my mind guided me towards what I did want to be part of. And it was a better way of being alive. It wasn’t nicer, but it was undeniably more valuable and more worthwhile.

Continue reading

Featured

» PEOPLE YOU MAY KNOW: Fake Identity & Cognitive Infiltration in Social Media and Beyond

by Brian Awehali

“A man is whatever room he is in.”
–Japanese proverb

Most people know a certain portion of people on the internet aren’t people at all, or aren’t the people they purport to be, especially on social networks like Google+, Twitter, and Facebook, where at least 5-6% of all profiles are fake. 97% of these imposters are estimated to identify as female, and apparently attractive college-aged bisexuals lead the field. Consider just Facebook’s roughly 1 billion users, then do the math. A conservative estimate is that 80 million of the profiles on the network are fictional. That’s roughly the population of Germany or Egypt, a quarter of the United States, fifteen Finlands. And yet most people don’t think such fakers are among the ranks of their own online “friends.”

“[Facebook is] the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented.” — Julian Assange, speaking to Russia Today.

* * *

ArmySocialMedia

If you have a blog with any overtly “political” agenda or content, chances are pretty good you have some fake followers, too, and that you’ve posted comments by them. You may have had multi-part email or comment board exchanges with them. They might even have names of people you recognize. If you’ve ever published/edited an independent magazine, or, say, co-moderated a politicized Facebook page, you definitely interacted with a fair amount of vitriolic cognitive absolutists and disruptive personalities, but you almost surely also interacted with dozens or hundreds of deliberate fakes, either bots engaged in large-scale data harvesting attacks, military or law enforcement personnel who are “doing” the internet in order to influence public opinion, or others intent on exploiting a fundamental weakness of social networks and the internet in general, humorously summed up in a 20-year-old New Yorker cartoon:

On the internet, no one knows you're a dog - New Yorker / Peter Steiner

“The analysis of the fake Facebook profile experiment showed that creating and maintaining a fake profile is an easy task.”

This was one of the main findings reported in a paper published in the Journal of Service Science Research last year. This is not a new story by any means, but it’s the first (and last) time I’m focusing on it here on LOUDCANARY. The paper is fairly detailed, but in March and April 2012, the authors created six “socially attractive fake Facebook profiles and integrat[ed] them into existing friendship networks to simulate a data harvesting attack.”

Continue reading

» RABBIT, NUN & POWERS IN TIBET

by Brian Awehali

Rabbit, Nun and Powers in Tibet

Tibetan nun and rabbit, alongside Han Chinese roadbloack heading into Tibet. Photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

There’s really only one highway going from southwest China to Tibet, and it’s long, uneven, often blocked or jammed by convoys of military vehicles or commercial trucks, and subject to periodic closures.

It’s a sparsely populated area, but you can tell that the Chinese have big plans for it. Enormous electrical power lines lope over the hills, and in spots unpaved road gives way incongruously to new four-lane highways.

TibetHighwaySignThe picture at the top was taken at a routine road block that’s set up en route to Lhagong, which the Han call Tagong. If you can read Mandarin, the sign to the right will tell you all about that roadblock. There’s just a gate they drop over the road at a standard time every day, and everyone piles out to stretch, mill around, or stare at a handful of the locals. This monk was just standing around, smiling like some obnoxiously enlightened* being, looking radiant alongside the martial roadblock, as this rabbit followed her around.

At the daily roadblock into Kham. (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

As counterintuitive as it might seem, I don’t think the Han Chinese stand a long-term chance against this kind of power (or altitude), though they’re probably more than willing to dispossess, torture and murder thousands of Tibetans in order to prove this kind of wishful or hopeful thinking wrong.

Horse at Golden Hour in Lhagong, Kham, Tibet ( ཁམས)

Horse and prayer flags at golden hour in Lhagong, Kham, Tibet ( ཁམས) – photo (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

* Is there a word for the complex of resentment/hatred/suspicion a person from an “inferior race” experiences when encountering people they see as better or purer? I feel this should have shown up, maybe somewhere in James Baldwin’s writing. I don’t actually believe in purity or race-based superiority, but I’m talking about what might have been at play, for example, when the mass of mostly poor and desperate Euroamerican settlers came to North America and encountered civilizations largely without body shame, economic poverty in any real sense, or all kinds of disease?

» FREEDOM FROM, FREEDOM TO: Austin’s Limits, “Legibility” and Some Merits of Nomadic Living

by Brian Awehali

Texas clay soil in drought conditions, cracking

Negative liberty is the absence of obstacles, barriers or constraints [...] Positive liberty is the possibility of acting — or the fact of acting — in such a way as to take control of one’s life and realize one’s fundamental purposes.

“Positive and Negative Liberty,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The more I examined [...] efforts at sedentarization, the more I came to see them as a state’s attempt to make a society legible, to arrange the population in ways that simplified the classic state functions of taxation, conscription, and prevention of rebellion [and] I began to see legibility as a central problem in statecraft.

–Yale Professor of Agrarian Studies James C. Scott, on efforts by nation states to “sedentarize” nomads, pastoralists, gypsies and other peoples living non-mainstream lives

This past April, my partner and I moved out of a spacious house in former Tonkawa/Apache lands — Austin, Texas — and into a full-time 75-square-foot RV, which we promptly steered westward.

Part of the reason for this was climatological: 110-degree summers and long-term drought conditions just aren’t appealing to me. My first month in Austin, the worst wildfire in Texas history flanked three sides of the city. All summer long, people waiting at bus stops flattened themselves like bats against slivers of shade from fences.

Another climate-related reality of Austin they don’t trumpet in their relentless promotional branding of the city (“inventive, creative, wired, rockin’, educated, fit and loved!”) is that because of drought, a huge number of homes in the area are developing major foundation problems. The clay soil of Austin contracts in times of drought, causing concrete house foundations to settle unevenly, drywall to splinter, and once-rectangular doorframes to go trapezoid. In a place plagued with drought and water restrictions, the least costly remedy for this is watering your home, and some local news media still encourage the practice. The costlier remedy is to have a foundation repair company jack your house back up for several thousand dollars. Then you can pay some contractors to fix all your doorframes and cracked drywall. Repeat every few years as needed. The problem is so big — and growing — that foundation repair companies can’t keep up with the demand.

TexasDeathRowAnother part of my decision to leave the Lone Star state was political. I was well informed before I moved there, but Texas’s longstanding support for capital punishment and private, for-profit prisons — 1,254 executed and counting! Guaranteed occupancy rates! Overwhelmingly non-white! — is another, far more heinous reality that Austin’s creative, wild, fun-, beer-, music- and new-media-lovin’ denizens are tacitly supporting with their tax dollars and promotion of the state’s capital. SXSW, Whole Foods and Dell, to name but a few prominent Austin-based businesses, make a ton of money for, and help whitewash the image of, arguably the most vengeful, prison-profiteering state in the Union. And that doesn’t even touch on the state’s demented, religiously-driven campaign against Planned Parenthood.

But hey, quit thinking about climate change, human rights, or women — especially poor women; SXSW, Whole Foods and Dell are trying to make money and grow an economy and capital city here, and they get really good tax incentives in Texas. The business of America, especially in Texas, is business. And the soundtrack for the movie of Austin, Texas is awesome! (Texas Quaker Friends: Respect.)

In 2012, Texas ignored the Supreme Court and put a mentally retarded man, Marvin Wilson — I.Q. 61 — to death. The courts and people who most make this kind of atrocity possible are in Austin. They are considered respectable people.

Werner Herzog’s harrowing 2011 documentary, Into the Abyss, featuring conversations with since-executed Texas death row inmate Michael Perry, his co-conspirators, and those affected by his crimes, is a tough look at the state’s capital punishment practices, but I’m pretty sure the movie’s dark title is also referring to the state of Texas itself:

Continue reading

» PLANTS, MAGIC & SPIRIT: Lit-Tripping in the Ethnobotanosphere

by Brian Awehali

“It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring”. – Carl Sagan

I’m always looking for examples of magic in the world that don’t require the willful suspension of disbelief, or the complete setting aside of critical thinking. Happily, the plant and animal kingdoms — not all that distinct or separate from us — provide almost limitless examples of interconnectedness, magic, and cosmic intelligence.

Consider highlights from Wikipedia’s, “Plant Intelligence” entry:

Plants are not passive entities… They signal and communicate within and among themselves, accurately compute their circumstances, use sophisticated cost-benefit analysis, and take tightly controlled actions to mitigate and control environmental stressors. Plants are capable of ‘learning’ from their past experiences, and of updating their behavior in order to survive present and future challenges of their environment. Plants are also capable of refined recognition of self and non-self, and are territorial in behavior.”

Ingredients for ayahuasca brewSo, keeping that complex and communicative intelligence in mind, are Columbian Amazonian shamans (or “medicine men” of many possible names) and their tribes able to communicate directly with animals and plants, and do they possess means of traveling to alternate psychic and physical realities? Can a combination of (animistic) belief, rhythm, color and strong plant medicine provide people with direct access and communication with what can be called a spirit realm? How is it that many Amazonian shamans possess understandings of the pharmacology and neurochemistry of plants that far exceeds that of Western scientists?

These are questions explored by Dr. Richard Evans Schultes’ landmark book, Vine of the Soul: Medicine Men, Their Plants and Rituals in the Columbian Amazon (1992), an extraordinary photo-centric collection of indigenous myths and narratives from travelers and scientists about the ayahuasca experience…

Harvard botanist Richard Evans Schultes and an Amazonian medicine man, snorting  curare powder through bones. Curare, a plant-derived poison most often used to lethal effect on hunting darts and arrows, is also capable of producing psychedelic states of consciousness.

Harvard botanist Richard Evans Schultes and an Amazonian medicine man, snorting curare powder through bones. Curare, a plant-derived poison most often used to lethal effect on hunting darts and arrows, is also capable of producing psychedelic states of consciousness.

Are the claims of medicine men — that they get their information directly from the plants, particularly under the influence of ayahuasca — to be taken literally, poetically, or both?

Continue reading

» AND THE FUTURE IS…

The future is what you make of it” isn’t just some annoying optimists’ platitude, thanks to the ministrations of professional futurists. Ford, Kraft, Motorola, and a host of other companies employ people in their “internal futures” departments; the University of Houston now offers students a degree in futurology; and various think tanks, most of them conservative in orientation, act as factories for professional speculators and their ilk. Creating the future, it seems, is the best way to predict it.

Comparisons to the more fabulous and generally less professional wing of the futurist community—palm, tarot and crystal ball readers, millenarian apocalypticists, Miss Cleo—are tenuous at best. Frankly, most divinators aren’t terribly interested in manufacturing the future in ways broadly aligned with the interests of corporate and government elites. And no self- respecting divinator would be caught dead using “strategic foresight,” “competitive behavior anticipation,” or any other such tool of the more employed wing of the futurist camp. There’s just no life in it.

To combat the professionals, and after failing to generate any predictions of our own that weren’t predictably bleak (and not all that useful) we advertised online for someone with real divination skills, and sifted through about 200 responses before settling on Victor, who mostly makes his living now as an online gambler. The predictions Victor gave us certainly aren’t “professional” in any sense of the word, but we were somewhat surprised—and frequently dismayed—at his prognostications…

Continue reading

» CAPITALISM MIDWIFED FEMINISM?

ImageSusan Faludi has a customarily trenchant piece in the current issue of The Baffler, “Facebook Feminism, Like It or Not,” that explores feminism’s path, from the organizing efforts of “mill girls” in 1834 in Lowell, Massachusetts, to today’s popular brand/seminar/book phenomenon, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, where empowerment can take many ill-defined forms, including breathless paeans to guru/leader/author Sheryl Sandberg on Facebook:

“THANK YOU FOR LEADING THE REVOLUTION!!!!☺”; “sheryl is inspirational! I missed zumba for this and happy I did!”

“The scene at the Menlo Park auditorium, and its conflation of “believe in yourself” faith and material rewards, will be familiar to anyone who’s ever spent a Sunday inside a prosperity-gospel megachurch or watched Reverend Ike’s vintage “You Deserve the Best!” sermon on YouTube. But why is that same message now ascendant among the American feminists of the new millennium?

Sandberg’s admirers would say that Lean In is using free-market beliefs to advance the cause of women’s equality. Her detractors would say (and have) that her organization is using the desire for women’s equality to advance the cause of the free market. And they would both be right. In embodying that contradiction, Sheryl Sandberg would not be alone and isn’t so new. For the last two centuries, feminism, like evangelicalism, has been in a dance with capitalism.

YouGoGirlIt’s a fabulous and important read. Check it out, then poke around The Baffler site for more eviscerating gems. You might also check out “The Object of the Object,” an adaptation of a chapter from Faludi’s book, Stiffed, exploring changing gender roles in the porn industry, which appeared here on LOUDCANARY as part of the extended online release of Tipping the Sacred Cow – The Best of LiP: Informed Revolt, an anthology which also features Lisa Jervis’s excellent related piece about “femininism” and the politics of female self-aggrandizement, “If Women Ruled the World, Nothing Would Be Different.”

» THE TWIN ENGINEERING WONDERS OF DUJIANGYAN: Irrigation & Detention

by Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park shishi, or Imperial Guardian Lion (石獅), photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park shishi, or Imperial Guardian Lion (石獅), photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan is a system of irrigation channels largely responsible for the renowned fertility of the Chengdu basin, in southwestern China. This elaborate engineering wonder, built about 2300 years ago, and still in use today, is what makes Sichuan province the most productive agricultural area in China. Most contemporary dams use a big wall to block water, adversely impacting the natural flow of fish and other marine life, but the ancient Dujiangyan irrigation works lets water and fish continue to flow.

I have no idea how old the statue above is (2300 years?), but the colossal millipede nestled in this gargoyle’s ear looks old and big enough to be from an entirely different geologic era.

Dujiangyan is also home to another old and elaborate example of Chinese engineering: the Dujiangyan Detention Facility, one of many outposts in the sprawling Chinese police state. Literally countless dissidents, political activists and otherwise problematically outspoken people have been detained, tortured and interrogated at these facilities.

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park signage, photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park signage, photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

A lot of even modestly well-informed Westerners don’t know about the full scope of China’s police state, it’s laogai prisons or its contemporary forced labor practices. One reason for this ignorance is simply that the Chinese government works very hard to control news and information about its internal security apparatus, but another reason surely has to do with just the sheer size of the apparatus.

Continue reading

» LiP: INFORMED REVOLT – The Grossly Unexpected Bugs Issue

LIP: Informed Revolt #7 - The Grossly Unexpected Bugs Issue

Some people shot us weird looks when we announced “bugs” as the theme for the final issue of LiP. A few others reacted with exuberance, as if all this time we’d been talking about the political, what they’d been really wanting to read about was the entomological.

This issue was an attempt to slip a certain noose of predictable political formulations. One of several operational definitions given for “politics” is “the total complex of relations between people living in society,” yet the obvious interdependence of human beings and the natural and animal world makes it reasonable to expand the definition of politics to include, well, just about everything; even—especially, as it turns out—bugs.

The lineup and links to a PDF of the complete issue after the jump…

Continue reading