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» SNOW DAY IN ISTANBUL

Corruption is like a ball of snow, once it’s set a rolling it must increase.”
— Charles Caleb Colton

Photo EssayUnlike corruption, snow is growing rarer in Istanbul, but it doesn’t appear to interrupt the usual activities of the city’s birds, fish or fishermen. A few dogs seemed on edge, and cat sightings were fewer and farther between, but otherwise it was business as usual.

Galata Bridge fishermen on a snowy day in Istanbul. - (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

 

Galata Bridge fisherman on a snowy day in Istanbul. - (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Outside it was snowing, but under the Galata Bridge? Bağlama and simit! (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Outside it was snowing, but under the Galata Bridge? Bağlama and simit! (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Fishing the Bosphorus, on the Galata side of the Galata bridge. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Men working as shoeshiners on the Galata Bridge will try to hustle foreigners by acting like they dropped their polishing brush. When you bring their attention to it, they act overwhelmingly grateful and vigorously insist on shining your shoes. They’ll even say it’s free, no charge. But it’s not.

Two things: I like how the guy smiles when he realizes he’s been made. Also, and more significantly, notice the other guy who’s in on it, who looks like he isn’t. He’s in the right of the frame, watching intently, then makes a hasty exit when he realizes I’m filming.

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» FIKRET MUALLâ: “COLORS THAT EVOKE DREAMS”

Fikret Muallâ’s statue in Moda, Kadikoy, in Istanbul. (c) Brian Awehali

Fikret Muallâ’s statue in Moda, Kadikoy, in Istanbul. (c) Brian Awehali

Photo EssayAvant-garde painter Fikret Muallâ (1904-1967) was born in Istanbul, but lived most of his life in France. Muallâ was a soul tortured by circumstance and self-abuse, but he understood his pain as a crucible for the perfection of his art, which he testified to in one of the last letters he was to write:

“In my opinion every artist should suffer hardship, anguish and hunger. Only after that should they enjoy life. After the age of fifty, people start to seek comfort and health, and to think. That is my fate. My life has passed in a struggle against poverty. Now in this quiet village I submit to living peacefully by myself waiting for the final period of my life as ordained by God. Apart from this I have no problems! No pretensions. We have seen every kind of circumstance the world has to offer, we have tasted very few of the pleasures of life. Today what is left but for my tongue to recall the past and my brush to paint?”

Fikret Muallâ’s statue in Moda, Kadikoy, in Istanbul. (c) Brian Awehali

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» WISHES TO MEDUSA AT THE BASILICA CISTERN

Photo EssayThe Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı) is spooky, but would be a lot spookier if it weren’t overrun with tour groups, or if it was still full of the corpses they once stored here, before turning it into a tourist attraction with a very repetitive, endless loop of classical music for a soundtrack.

Inverted Medusa at the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Inverted Medusa at the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

This was the largest of many ancient cisterns beneath Constantinople (now Istanbul), and it was built (by slaves) in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The section of the cistern with Medusa’s head planted, upside down and supporting a pillar, was actually taken from another ruin and added to this site later.

People have thrown coins into the water around Medusa’s head, and I wondered: What were they wishing for?

To ponder that, consider Medusa, who’s been interpreted as many things, including as a symbol of female rage, nihilism, and scientific determinism trampling on religious “truth.” Freud unsurprisingly made her all about the penis, and interpreted Medusa as a talisman representing castration.

Fish in the Basilica Cistern don’t care about symbolism or religion. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Fish in the Basilica Cistern don’t care about symbolism or religion. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

View of the Basilica Cistern ceiling. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

View of the Basilica Cistern ceiling. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

A skeptic or sympathizer before Medusa. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

A skeptic or sympathizer before Medusa. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

It seems likely that most well-wishers to Medusa are aggrieved women seeking revenge and redress for their injuries, probably against a man, or men who wronged them. Perhaps some were also making defiantly vengeful wishes against those who proclaim women to be second-rate or inherently lesser than men, or who scold and circumscribe women’s self-expression because of its allegedly deleterious impact on men’s loins and morals. But really, isn’t that properly men’s problem to deal with?

As one Istanbulian woman I met commented hilariously: “You’d think these men would be more ashamed to admit so openly that they’re such perverts! Oooh, a leg! Oh no, a neck! I can’t control myself!”

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» WE LOOK LIKE THE TYPE

Blickensderfer

Text and photos by Brian Awehali

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 become more legible to corporations, governments and private individuals in increasingly centralized, synoptic positions.


Two women — one young, the other elderly and pushing an upright shopping cart — paused to look in the window of the California Typewriter Company on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley.

“Typewriters,” said the older woman, meaningfully.

“Old,” said the younger one, before glancing down at her smartphone.

It’s true; typewriters are old. But their invention, rise, and popular decline also paralleled one of the most transformative periods in modern human history. The newest typewriter in the Berkeley store, a sky-blue Olivetti Studio 46 manual built in Brazil in the early 1990s, might have been made before the younger woman was. Most are decades older, and it’s likely that many of these machines were used at some point by a woman entering the workforce for the first time, as a typist or secretary. The oldest typewriter in the store, a Smith Premier No. 2 with what look like wooden keys, was built in the startlingly retro-futuristic year of 1890, when events like the massacre of ghost dancers at Wounded Knee and the formal end of the US-Indian Wars co-existed in time with mass electrification and the appearance of the first computer — a punch card tabulator used for tallying census data.

The nostalgic and historic appeal of typewriters is easy to understand. But what’s driving the recent revival of practical interest in them? Who’s using typewriters, and why?

Continue reading

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» AFTERNOON PHOTOS IN KADIKOY

Photo EssayKadıköy, on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, is a lot less touristy than the parts of the European side near the Galata Bridge. Frankie and I took a ferry over and shot some photos of its buildings, animals and people.

Kadıköy pier view of the Bosphorus at golden hour. – (c) 2014 Boots Natanama

Kadıköy pier view of the Bosphorus at golden hour. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Street art on Moda, in Kadıköy. Given other vegan and vegetarian propaganda around the neighborhood, I’m pretty sure the “Never Eat Animals?” message (lower-left) was written by someone other than the original artist. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Street art on Moda, in Kadıköy. Given other vegan and vegetarian propaganda around the neighborhood, I’m pretty sure the “Never Eat Animals?” message (lower-left) was written by someone other than the original artist. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

eople maintain this housing complex for cats in an empty lot on Moda St., in Kadıköy. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

People maintain this housing complex for cats in an empty lot on Moda St., in Kadıköy. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

…not that life is necessarily easy for cats in Istanbul. Especially one-eyed ones. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

…not that life is necessarily easy for cats in Istanbul. Especially one-eyed ones. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

…or fish, for that matter. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

…or fish, for that matter. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Street musicians at the Kadıköy market on Muhurdar St., playing something nationalistic. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Street musicians at the Kadıköy market on Muhurdar St., playing something nationalistic. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

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» KARDEşIMSIN (YOU ARE MY BROTHER), MICHAEL BROWN

Photo Essay

Kardeşimsin Mike (“You are my brother, Mike”): Street stencil in Galata, Istanbul expressing solidarity with Michael Brown, who was killed by police offer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014. - (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Kardeşimsin Mike (“You are my brother, Mike”): Street stencil in Galata, Istanbul expressing solidarity with Michael Brown, who was killed by police offer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Michael Brown protest signage in Ferguson, MO, (c) 2016 Brian AwehaliI passed through Ferguson, Missouri a week after Michael Brown was killed. The first thing I noticed as I drove onto Florissant Ave., the main street through town, was three armed national guardsmen getting gas for their armored personal carrier at a QuikTrip convenience store. The other customers at the store seemed unfazed, buying their chemical- and corn syrup-laden junk food, getting their gas, and generally going about their business. It was eerie and unsettling, how quickly they seemed to have grown accustomed to the elevated martial presence in their town.

CNN Media Truck on Florissant Ave. in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting of Michael Brown. - (c) 2016 Brian AwehaliBut the scale and aggression of police force in Ferguson shocked and outraged many Americans, not least because of the considerable dramatic media coverage it received. As I drove down Florissant, the small handmade sign that hung across the street from the police station was dwarfed by the assembled media vans and their satellite dishes, which helped put Ferguson on heavy rotation in national and international news.

No one in the media-“informed” public can know with factual certainty what happened between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown, which makes the latest round of destruction in Ferguson and St. Louis much sadder than it would otherwise be. But the racist systematic municipal harassment of Ferguson’s African-American population is documented and undeniable. Disproportionate rates of police violence against blacks and the overrepresentation of black folks in our prison system are also documented and undeniable. Addressing and changing the deeply entrenched racial injustices that plague America is a long and difficult ongoing process, but one immediately useful result of the events in Ferguson and their media coverage is that many people became aware, for the first time, of just how advanced the militarization of domestic U.S. police forces has become. (See also this Vice interview with Radley Balko, a police militarization expert.)

One hopes the the current protests, riots and alleged looting won’t be spun by the media in such a way that serves to justify militarized domestic police forces, but it’s hard not to see it happening that way.

I’m in Turkey right now, and was surprised to see street art expressing solidarity with Michael Brown in the Galatasaray neighborhood. Turkey, too, has experienced a number of police shootings of young minority/disenfranchised youth. I’m no expert on Turkey, but I don’t think most Istanbulians today would find great shows of police force very shocking:

Kobane (Kurdish) Solidarity march on Istiklal, in Istanbul - (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

n 2014, political marches occur routinely on Istiklal, one of the biggest and busiest streets in the city. It’s not uncommon for large numbers of Turkish police in riot gear to amass in response. It seems fair to say that the overall level of political engagement, across the ideological spectrum, is greater and more intense in Istanbul than it is in any U.S. city, and that a good portion of people here do not confine their political action to simply voting, as a good portion of the less than half of Americans who vote do.

Most of the riot police who greeted this Nov. 8 Istanbul Kobane (Kurdish) Solidarity march looked quite young, and more concerned than angry.

Istanbul riot police on Istiklal, during a Kobane (Kurdish) solidarity march. - (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Istanbulians and visitors continued going about their leisure activities, strolling, eating, and listening to music. It seemed to be just another Saturday night on Istiklal.

 

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» RUINOUS SEX CULT(URE) IN APHRODISIAS

Ruins of Aphrodisias, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Photo EssayIf you visit Turkey, it’s definitely worth strolling the nicely overgrowing ruins of Aphrodisias, a place originally erected in honor of a local cult’s goddess of fertility who has come to be known most widely as Aphrodite, goddess of love.

Ruins of Aphrodisias, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Lots of different areas had their own interpretations and names for her: Cytherea, Cypris, Acidalia, Cerigo, Ourania, Artemis and Ashtart among them. “Aphrodite” is Greek, “Lady of Ephesus” Anatolian, and “Venus” is Roman, but they’re all basically the same cult image, reinterpreted and adapted for local and/or religious purposes usually involving fertility. Continue reading

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» QUALIFIED APPRECIATIONS AT HAGIA SOPHIA

 

Photo EssayHagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey - (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Spiritually speaking, I’m fairly described as an atheist anarcho-Buddhist, and I didn’t want to go stand in line to look at the Hagia Sophia, one of the oldest and largest monuments to monotheism and feuding totalitarian religious dogma in the world. But F. really wanted to go, and I didn’t have any better plans for the gray and rainy day.

Birds outside the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey - (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

There was a long lemming line to get in, and surly money tenders at the ticket booth. There was a tacky gift shop where you could buy overpriced jewelry and bric-a-brac. There was a lot of scaffolding, and ropes marking off all the places you could not go. Christian mosaics and art battled with prominent Muslim signage and messaging.

Partially intact Christian mural at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey - (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

But if I just put all of the history and religion out of mind, the Hagia Sophia was a pretty amazing work of architecture, with impressive beauty and some fascinating stone work.

Looking upward from the floor of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey - (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

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» BLACK(ENING) EARTH: THE CASE OF FAZIL SAY

“Have you heard of Fazıl Say?,” she asked, with the obscenely picturesque Istanbul skyline behind her. We were, all of us, at a rooftop bar/restaurant, eating and drinking raki when I asked about Turkish musicians I should know about. I admitted I hadn’t heard of him.

“He’s a genius,” she said. “But he was punished for insulting Islam.”

Say, I now know, is a pianist and composer who’s garnered wide acclaim for his work. One of his first big international breakthroughs came in 1997, with “Black Earth,” a piano piece which fused his own considerable compositional skills with motifs from Turkish folk music and experimental techniques most identified with John Cage (whose own work was deeply influenced by Buddhist philosophy and practice):

Say is also apparently a Turkish atheist who made the rare choice to actually admit that fact in public, and who further confirmed his “infidel” status in several (re)tweets referencing the 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyam poking fun of an Islamic view of the afterlife, and by posting his own joke on Twitter about a local muezzin’s azan (muezzin‘s are the people who sing the azan, or call to prayer, that goes out over Islamic cities, towns and villages five times a day.):

“Muezzin 22 saniyede okudu akşam ezanını yahu. Prestissimmo con fuco!!! Ne acelen var? Sevgili? Rakı masası? ” ( The muezzin has recited the evening azan in 22 seconds. [Early, with fire]!!! What’s the rush? Lover? Raki binge?)

Those landed him in legal trouble when the government prosecuted him for insulting Islam and offending Muslims and handed down a 10-month jail sentence, which was suspended on the condition that Say engage in no further blasphemous speech or action.

You might imagine that anyone secure in their religious belief wouldn’t worry what an “unbeliever” posts on a largely inane social media platform like Twitter, since that believer could rest easy knowing they were right and the non-believer was wrong.

But that’s not how totalitarian monotheistic religious thought works — be it Muslim, Christian or Buddhist, in Turkey, the U.S., Myanmar or elsewhere — when it’s being exploited for cynical political purposes.

“Here in Turkey, we have been going through a hard period, as the ruling class oppresses the masses while trying to gain power by misusing religion,” said Say, in a 2013 speech to the 38th Congress of the International Federation for Human Rights.

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» NIGHT, ON AND AROUND THE GALATA BRIDGE

Galata Bridge and Blue Mosque at night, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Photo EssayAccording to F., you can safely skip the much-recommended Turkish baths (hamam) in Suleymaniye. Besides the fact that they’ll cost you a minimum of 90 Turkish lira (about $45 right now), with scrub-downs or special treatments costing extra, the environment’s not particularly interesting. It’s a tourist trap. Other, less touristy hamams might be better.

I didn’t try it out, but I take her word for it, and recommend getting yourself instead to a Korean spa when and if you’re in Korea (or a Koreatown in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Dallas, or Plano, Texas), get the chance, and have about $25 (for up to 24 hours of spa time!)

Eminönü (Istanbul) roasted chestnut vendor at night, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

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» MODERN MUSLIM MISCHIEF IN KASIMPASA

Photo EssayI laughed sympathetically as I watched this scene from the ferry I took from Kasımpaşa to Eminönü. The two younger women in these pictures really wanted to throw rocks into the Bosphorus. They weren’t harming anything, except maybe the chances of the couple of people fishing from the dock, who actually caught a nice-sized fish immediately after these women were chastised by the ticket-taker for the ferry.

1. “Is it OK?”

Muslim mother and her children in Kasimpasa, Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

 

2. “Yeah, I think it’s OK. Let’s throw rocks in the Bosphorus over here….”

Muslim mother and her children in Kasimpasa, Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

 

3. “I guess it wasn’t OK.”

Muslim woman and her children in Kasimpasa, Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

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» PEOPLE YOU MAY KNOW: Fake Identity 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.”

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» CHINESE PIGEON RACING & CONFINEMENT IN CHENGDU

by Brian Awehali

Kitebird at People's Park, Chengdu, (c) 2012, Brian Awehali

Kitebird flown at People’s Park, Chengdu in 2010. – (c) 2012, Brian Awehali

Seemingly querulous racing pigeons in a Chengdu rooftop coop - (c) 2012, Brian AwehaliPhoto Essay“I’m very worried,” said Mr. C., our interpreter and guide, as our driver pulled into the courtyard. His eyes were wet. “Only two of my pigeons have returned from the race two days ago.”

Mr. C., a thin man with a sweet face, had arranged through a friend for us to make a weekend visit to a Chengdu suburb for a tour of a pigeon racing club and one racer’s private coop.

“How many pigeons did you release?” I asked.

“Ten,” he said mournfully. As we piled out of the sedan into a courtyard, he ran ahead.

Orderly pigeons in a Chengdu rooftop coop - (c) 2012, Brian Awehali

Orderly pigeons in a Chengdu rooftop coop – (c) 2012, Brian Awehali

The owner of this private coop, who was meeting us inside, was the editor of a newspaper, and also a prominent local member of the Communist Party. Most officials of any substantial-sized business in China probably are, and one might consider it an occupational hazard.

Ah, sweet release:

Photo-of-a-photo on the wall of a suburban Chengu pigeon racing club - (c) 2012, Brian Awehali

Photo-of-a-photo on the wall of a suburban Chengdu pigeon racing club – (c) 2012, Brian Awehali

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» HERE COMES THE OCEAN (and the Triumph of Slime)

by Brian Awehali

Climate change is causing the sea to rise far faster than scientists once expected, a meter or more by 2100. Perhaps that doesn’t seem so dire to you. Perhaps you read that sentence and think: “Pity; there go some beaches and beach-front real estate.” Maybe you think: “You know, I’ve always liked the ocean more than New York City anyway…” If so, you may not be getting the picture, because a rise of just one meter will literally drown cities and towns across the globe, displacing millions of people, creating food shortages, epic political conflicts and disease epidemics.

It is not just the amount of overall rise that is of concern. That may well be the least concerning aspect. Storm surges will increase dramatically in strength if baseline sea level is higher. Hurricanes and typhoons have already increased significantly in strength and duration, an effect scientists attribute to climate change, and this is expected to continue. More than 10,000 people have been killed in storm surges in the Bay of Bengal alone in the last 300 years, and such surges could increase exponentially in the coming years. This means that the watery ends of Miami, Tokyo, New York, Mumbai, Shanghai, Jakarta, and Dhaka are not just possible, but actually likely.

Their ends might come from the sea, something like this:

…or from the sky, like this:

(The already disappearing island of Kiribati is, of course, already f–ked.)

Continue reading

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» BIRDS ATTACK!: Navigation, Personality & Aggression in the Aviary Kingdom

by Brian Awehali

Dog and Crow Battle, Ocean Beach, San Francisco (c) Brian Awehali

Who’s attacking whom on Ocean Beach, SF? – photo (c) Brian Awehali

Birds, who once were dinosaurs, could take over the world (again) if they wanted to. And not just in the movies, a la Hitchcock’s 1963 terror, The Birds. (If you haven’t seen the movie, check out this well-edited one-and-a-half-minute version of it.) Not long ago, in Kagoshima, a city on the southern island of Kyushu, in Japan, a booming crow population went on the offensive: destroying power lines and fiber optic cable, being markedly more aggressive with people, and outwitting human “crow patrols” by building decoy nests. In recent years, crows have been filmed using tools in sequence and exhibiting complex reasoning as well.

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» LISTEN TO THE BIRDS: In Praise of Captain Beefheart & His Magics

by Brian Awehali


“Listen to the birds. That’s where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren’t going anywhere.”
– Captain Beefheart, “10 Commandments of Guitar Playing

Music can do a lot of different things. There’s music to comfort you, music to make you dance, music to make the time pass easier.

And then there’s music that whacks you upside the head, assaults you, is radically unconcerned with your comfort, and comes to get inside and change you, forever. Continue reading

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» DANGEROUS WORDS: A Profile of Chinese Poet and People’s Historian Liao Yiwu (廖亦武)

Three months after this was written, Liao Yiwu escaped China and sought asylum in Germany. He has also since released a vivid memoir of his years in detention, For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet’s Journey Through a Chinese Prison.

interview and photos by Brian Awehali

“Why should the government fear me?” says Liao smiling, the first day we meet, along with an interpreter and several friends at a riverside teahouse outside of Chengdu, in Sichuan province. “I’m just a guy who tells stories.”

Liao Yiwu ( 廖亦武 ) in Wenjiang, Chengdu, July 2010, released under CC-by-2.0 with permission of the photographer Brian Awehali

Liao Yiwu ( 廖亦武 ) in Wenjiang, Chengdu, July 2010, released under CC-by-2.0 with permission of the photographer Brian Awehali

When I was in China last year, I heard and read many colorful stories. Here’s a strictly true one: a PRC official, speaking to a visiting US official sometime in 2010, says, in somewhat condescending fashion, “We are very impressed with the gains your country has made in its short 200-year history,” to which the US official replies,  “Yes, we are very impressed with the gains of your 60-year-old country as well.”

There are, after all, people, and then there are states. There’s the massive 5,000-year-old “culture” of China, made up of many different peoples, incorporated and renegade, spread over every conceivable terrain and holding as many or more distinct and idiosyncratic beliefs and practices as they hold in common, and then there’s the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its fractious apparatus.

Beginning around 1958, under the leadership of Mao Zedong and the PRC, a roughly thirty year war was declared on the culture, traditions, infrastructure and very memory of China: temples, libraries, museums and universities were razed; millions of intellectuals, professors, specialized workers, landowners, landlords and other “liberal bourgeois elements” were imprisoned or murdered. Thirty million people—the number almost defies comprehension—starved to death after the government outlawed private farms and forced farmers in the country to send unreasonable quotas of their harvest to the cities to feed urban workers during the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to rapidly transform China into an industrial power. Compounding the stark material realities of life under Mao, during the Cultural Revolution, family members and neighbors were turned murderously against each other in series of state-directed ideological campaigns and “purges,” and official records and memories not echoing the government’s line were destroyed.

Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) was born in 1958, almost ten years after the founding of the PRC, and his often principally embattled life and many volumes of work both cast extraordinary light on the traumatic and complex collision between the Chinese people and their modern state. He’s been imprisoned and tortured for writing and distributing his poetry, and though his work has received significant international attention and acclaim, it’s also completely banned in China.

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» MADNESS & MASS SOCIETY: Pharmaceuticals, Psychiatry & the Rebellion of True Community

Hieronymus Bosch, "The Garden of Earthly Delights" detail, raven vs. mob

Brian Awehali interviews Dr. Bruce Levine

Author and clinical psychologist Bruce E. Levine wants to tell you that many forms of depression, discontent, and a whole raft of diagnosed mental illness are nothing more than natural responses to the oppression of institutional society. In his book, Commonsense Rebellion, Levine contends that the vast majority of mental disorders are, to put it simply, profit-driven fabrications with no established biochemical or genetic causes. This interview with Dr. Levine was conducted several years ago for publication in LiP: Informed Revolt, but the growth of corporate pharmaceutical “solutions” to deviant behaviors has only grown since then. Dr. Levine’s newest book, Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite, (Chelsea Green, 2011) is an exploration of the political psychology of demoralization and the strategies and tactics used by oppressed peoples to gain power in the United States.

Awehali: Bruce, you’re a critic of both psychiatry—the medical science of identifying and treating mental illness with drugs—and psychology—the study of human behavior, thought, and development. Are there substantial differences between the two?

Bruce Levine: When I first started out as a psychologist in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was fairly commonplace to dissent from psychiatry—that’s why people became psychologists. They saw the pseudo-science of not only the treatments but of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) itself. Unfortunately, over the years, psychology itself has slowly aped psychiatry, and there isn’t that sharp a distinction between the two anymore. The American Psychological Association (APA)—the professional group for psychologists—now fights for prescription rights for psychologists. So I guess any psychologist who maintains a position that depression isn’t primarily an innate biochemical disease, and that the DSM is a nonscientific instrument of diagnosis, is a dissident!

I should say that back in the 1970s and 1980s, before psychiatrists had the backing of the drug companies, they had very little power. In fact, they were falling apart, as evidenced by so many movies that were making fun of them, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—which could never come out today. But back in those days, when [psychiatrists] weren’t in bed with the drug companies and didn’t have much political power, you saw movies like that come out. Now, psychiatrists have the media power; they’re able to describe the playing field of the controversy.

Let me ask you a blunt question, first: Do you think there’s ever any basis for diagnosing someone as mentally ill?

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» IF WOMEN RULED THE WORLD, NOTHING WOULD BE DIFFERENT

Femininism - illustration by Hugh D'Andrade

by Lisa Jervis

[This article, first published in Fall 2005, is made available here as part of the online release of Tipping the Sacred Cow – The Best of LiP: Informed Revolt(AK Press) – Full PDF]

The biggest problem with American feminism today is its obsession with women. Yes, you heard me: It’s time for those of us who care deeply about eliminating sexism within the context of social justice struggles to stop caring so damn much about what women, as a group, are doing. Because a useful, idealistic, transformative progressive feminism is not about women. It’s about gender, and all the legal and cultural rules that govern it, and power—who has it and what they do with it.

A transformative progressive feminism envisions a world that is different from the one we currently inhabit in two major and related ways. Most obviously, this world would be one in which gender doesn’t determine social roles or expected behavior. More broadly, it would also be one in which people are not sacrificed on the altar of profit—which would mean universal health care, living wages, drastically reduced consumption, and an end to the voracious marketing machine that fuels it. The link between these two elements is clear: Both gender and race, as they currently exist, are socially enforced categories that shore up a consumer capitalist system by providing opportunities for both marketing and exploitation.

But much of the contemporary American feminist movement is preoccupied with the mistaken belief—call it femininism—that female leadership is inherently different from male; that having more women in positions of power, authority, or visibility will automatically lead to, or can be equated with, feminist social change; that women are uniquely equipped as a force for action on a given issue; and that isolating feminist work as solely pertaining to women is necessary or even useful.

The influence of femininist thinking is broadly in evidence today, from casual conversations in which arrogant know-it-alls are described in shorthand terms like “typically male” and “how very boy” to nonprofit groups that exist to promote the leadership of women—any women—in business and politics. It manifests itself in the topics that are considered most central to feminism. The problems feminism should be trying to solve are not caused primarily by a dearth of women with power. The overwhelming maleness of the American population of congressional representatives and physics professors, CEOs and major-newspaper op-ed columnists is a symptom, sure, of a confluence of economic, political, and cultural forces that devalue women’s work, denigrate our ideas as less important than men’s, and discourage us from aiming high. Would more women in high places signify a change in that? Yeah. And that would be nice.

But any changes would likely be superficial: More women in high-paying corporate jobs might mean that women would finally be making more, on average, than 76 cents to the male dollar, but it would do nothing about the 35.8 million people under the poverty line—and it’s definitely not going to transform the values of profit maximization that keep them there. It wouldn’t even necessarily mean that large numbers of women were being paid wages closer to their male counterparts. Like the wage gap itself, it would be a symptom of power at work, a signal that women are being allowed more access to the benefits of a destructive value system. If we’re fighting just for that access on behalf of women, without mounting a challenge to it, then feminism is, to borrow a phrase from Barbara Smith, nothing more than female self-aggrandizement.

Furthermore, the most pressing issues facing women worldwide—slave wages, inadequate health care systems, environmental degradation, war and surveillance society, and the rampant corporate profiteering involved in all of the above—are a) no less important to feminists just because they also happen to be the most pressing issues facing men and b) directly related to the particularly ruthless brand of global capitalism we’re currently living under.

This vulture capitalism would not magically disappear if women were in charge of more stuff. Racism would not go away. Hell, sexism itself would probably be alive and kicking. God knows the gender binary would be stronger than ever. In short: The actual workings of power will not change with more chromosomal diversity among the powerful. Continue reading

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» PLAY GO! (玩 围棋!)

by Brian Awehali

{It is} something unearthly . . . If there are sentient beings on other planets, then they play Go.” — Emanuel Lasker, international Chess Master

First things first: No, outside of there being white and black pieces placed in alternating turns on a grid, it’s nothing like Othello. And it was invented by the Chinese, but is most often referred to by its spiffy Japanese name: Go.

Go, or wéiqí, was created by Chinese emperor Yao about 4000 years ago and was allegedly invented to help a stupid son learn to think better. Or it was invented by Chinese tribal warlords as a strategy aid. Or it began as a fortune-telling medium.

The reality of the game is more interesting than the lore:  Go (碁 in Japanese), baduk (바둑 in Korean), and wéiqí (围棋 in the original Chinese), is a game with true majesty for those who devote themselves to it. For its devotees and for mathematicians in almost equal measure, the game inspires reverence and awe. Due to its extremely open-ended play and staggering mathematical possibilities for variation, the game is by far the hardest to teach computers. That fact, along with the clip below (after the break), from Darren Aronofsky’s film, π (or Pi) sealed it: Go was the game for me.

“Listen to me. The possibilities of game play are endless. They say that no two Go games have ever been alike. Just like snowflakes. So, the Go board actually represents an extremely complex and chaotic universe. That is the truth of our world…there is no simple pattern. — From π, or Pi

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» UNDER THE ETERNAL SKY: Mining Boom Gains Momentum in Mongolia

Khan Kentee Protected Area, Gorkhi-Terelj, Mongolia, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

by Brian Awehali

Nomadic herder in Gorkhi-Terelj, Mongolia, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

After spending several months in the epic clamor of industrializing China, I went to Mongolia looking for open spaces and unspoiled nature, for clean air, for hiking and horseback riding, and for nights still dark enough to terrify. In the countryside (and most of it remains countryside) the Eternal Sky held sacred by Mongolians since well before the time of Genghis Khan levitates with majesty over wide-open grassland prairie, steppe, subarctic evergreen forest, wetland, alpine tundra, mountain, and desert. It stretches above yak, goat, reindeer, camel, wolf, bear, marmot, squirrel, hawk, falcon, eagle and crane, and above some of the last traditional nomadic peoples and wild horses on Earth.

The seemingly infinite Mongolian sky also hangs over the largest mining boom on the planet.

Candlelit Ger/Yurt in Gorkhi-Terelj, Mongolia, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

On my flight from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, I sat next to a miner named Tim. Tim had a wife and two children back in Nova Scotia, with another on the way. He was trying to convince his wife to relocate to Mongolia, but she wasn’t going for it yet. So his mining career kept him away from his family as he traveled to Colorado, Nevada, Australia, and now Mongolia. Tim kept his taupe outdoorsman’s hat on for the entire flight, but I forgave him for that because he shared his Lonely Planet Mongolia and enthusiastically told me about his work at a new copper mine in the Gobi Desert.

“It’s just a camp now, but we’re investing $40 million this year alone, and when it really gets up and running, it’ll probably become the second largest city in Mongolia,” Tim told me. “It’s going to be huge.

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» ACTUALLY AFFORDABLE CALIFORNIA COASTAL LIVING

Long-term encampment at the Albany Bulb in the California Bay Area in 2014. - (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Photo EssayThe Albany Bulb, just north of Berkeley, California, is a peninsula-shaped landfill created by rubble from an earthquake in San Francisco (background of the photo above) that’s existed for a long time as a kind of park, outsider art gallery and, until recently, semi-continuous community of squatters.

Three-eyed lavender Medusa painting-on-rubble at the Albany Bulb, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Three-eyed lavender Medusa painting-on-rubble at the Albany Bulb – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Now that the landfill’s grown less toxic and the terrain’s become nicely overgrown, the city of Albany would very much like to evict the squatters and figure out ways to beautify and monetize the area for its more upstanding, legible subjects.

The Birdman of Albany Bulb, feeding gulls in the parking lot of the adjacent horse-racing track. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

The Birdman of Albany Bulb, feeding gulls in the parking lot of the adjacent horse-racing track. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Like most bureaucratic functionaries in the U.S., Albany’s would like to eliminate the presence of people who aren’t legible to the modern U.S. surveillance state.

Side view of improv housing at the Albany Bulb, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Side view of improv housing at the Albany Bulb, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

But for now at least, a very small bit of actually affordable, still somewhat off-grid California coastal living still exists.

Land’s end! Just south of the Albany Bulb, at the Berkeley Marina. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Land’s end! Just south of the Albany Bulb, at the Berkeley Marina. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

» SCENES FROM ALICATI, TURKEY

Photo EssayAlicati is a town on the “Turkish Riviera,” and it’s a favored getaway for wealthy Europeans, especially Greeks. It’s almost certainly lovelier to me during the quiet off-season.

Shoe polisher and scooter in the off-season, Alicati, Turkey, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Shoe polisher and scooter in the off-season, Alicati, Turkey, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Alicati, Turkey street pottery. Note the lovely quiet emptiness of the streets. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Alicati, Turkey street pottery. Note the lovely quiet emptiness of the streets. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Kebelek storefront, Alicati, Turkey. The flowers aren’t real, but the flag is. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Kebelek storefront, Alicati, Turkey. The flowers aren’t real, but the flag is. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

“Stay calm and drink (buy) more wine,” in Alicati, Turkey. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

“Stay calm and drink (buy) more wine,” in Alicati, Turkey. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Alicati cats stake out A.M. rendering lessons at the fish market. It’s very important that not one, but two flags hang over your fish cleaning operation. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Alicati cats stake out A.M. rendering lessons at the fish market. It’s very important that not one, but two flags hang over your fish cleaning operation. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Visionally impressive but nutritionally disastrous Turkish breakfast. 80% of what you see here is a kind of “preserve” suspended in simple syrup. In the U.S., this would qualify as “part” of a nutritious breakfast. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Visionally impressive but nutritionally disastrous Turkish breakfast. 80% of what you see here is a kind of “preserve” suspended in simple syrup. In the U.S., this would qualify as “part” of a nutritious breakfast. (c) 2016 Brian Awehali