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12 Jul 12:59

The open-plan office is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea

by DHH

Not because there aren’t people who actually enjoy working in an open office, there are. Quite a few, actually. But they’re in the distinct minority. The vast majority of people either dislike the open office or downright hate it. So how is that going to work, exactly?

By force, of course! Open offices are more appealing to people in management because they needn’t protect their own time and attention as much. Few managers have a schedule that allows, or even requires, long hours of uninterrupted time dedicated to a single creative pursuit.

And it’s these managers who are in charge of designing office layouts and signing leases. It’s also these managers who are responsible for booking photo shots of the FUN-FUN office, giving tours to investors, and fielding interviews with journalists. The open office is an excellent backdrop for all those activities.

What it isn’t, though, is conducive to better collaboration. A new study shows that the number one argument for the open office, increased collaboration, is bullshit. Converting traditional offices with walls and doors and separation into open-plan offices causes face-to-face interaction to plummet, not rise. People try to shield their attention (and sanity!) by retreating into headphone-clad cocoons, and instead rely on instant messaging or email to interact. D’oh!

My personal distaste for the open office goes back to the turn of the millennium when I worked at several tech companies with open-office layouts. It was a tyranny of interruption, distraction, and stress. The quality of my work suffered immensely, and so did my mental wellbeing. I feel quite comfortable stating that I would never have been able to create Ruby on Rails or any of my other software or creative achievements in such an environment.

One particular incident from those days stand out. We were already working from an open office, but at least I had a desk with a wall behind me, so there was a modicum of privacy and psychological safety. Then management decided that it would “look better” if we went to circular desks where several of us would be sitting with our backs to the hallway, so everyone walking past would be looking at our screen as they passed. It took a minor rebellion that lasted several weeks before management backed down from that horrendous idea.

Now, an open office is a continuum. The absolute worst is when you have dozens of people from all different departments in the same room. Sales, marketing, support, administration, programmers, designers, what have you. These departments have very different needs for quiet or concentration or use of phones or open conversation. Mixing them together is peak bad open office design.

Less bad — but still not great — is to again have dozens of people in the same room, but from largely the same functions or complimentary ones. Programmers, designers, writers together. The problem here is that even within the same domain, different people will have very different sensibilities about what’s a reasonable level of conversation or interruption. Remember, there’s a sizable minority of even creative people who enjoy the open office!

And probably least bad is small team rooms of fewer than ten people, preferably fewer than six. I’ve sat together with really small teams before and that’s been OK. Some people who don’t like the open office at all might even still enjoy this configuration.

None of this is new. There’s been an endless stream of studies showing that the open-plan office is a source of stress, conflict, and turnover. And yet it’s still the default in tech. An almost unquestioned default. That’s a fucking travesty.

We’re squandering human health and potential on an epic scale by forcing the vast majority of people who dislike or hate the open office into that configuration. Their work deteriorates, their job satisfaction declines. And for what? Because a minority of people kinda like that configuration? Because it’ll look good in a few photos? Because it’ll impress strangers who visit the office? Get outta here.

The Basecamp office has a row of desks out in the open which we govern by Library Rules. We also have four private work rooms. Usually fewer than five people work from the office on any given day. The rest is remote. Want to learn more about how we try to keep it calm at Basecamp? Got a new book coming Oct 2, 2018 called It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work. Check it out.


The open-plan office is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

06 Jul 06:38

Did blogs ruin the web? Or did the web ruin blogs?

by Tim Carmody

Here are three essays that make very different arguments but are worth reading, and (I think) worth reading together.

1. “How the Blog Broke the Web,” by Amy Hoy. Hoy’s essay is alternately nostalgic for the early days of blogs and smartly critical of the choices that were made then and how they affected the later development of the web.

Suddenly people weren’t creating homepages or even web pages, but they were writing web content in form fields and text areas inside a web page.

Suddenly, instead of building their own system, they were working inside one.

A system someone else built.

In particular, Hoy argues, the push towards chronological organization and frequent chronological updates privileged blogs over other kinds of early web production, and drove out sites that had a weirder, more perpendicular relationship to time.

2. Dave Winer, “What Became of the Blogosphere? Winer is focused on a narrower problem, but he gives it wide implications.

What changed is we lost the center. I know something about this because I created and operated weblogs.com. It worked at first, but then the blogosphere grew and grew, and weblogs.com didn’t or couldn’t scale to meet it. Eventually I sold it because it was such a personal burden for me.

The blogosphere is made of people, but the people treated the center like a corporation, and it wasn’t. If we ever want to reboot the center, there has to be a cooperative spirit, and a limit to its scope to avoid the scaling problems. You can’t put a big corp at the center of something so independent, or it ceases to be independent…

There used to be a communication network among bloggers, but that’s gone now.

3. Navneet Alang, “Ding Dong, The Feed Is Dead.” Alang is interested in how the disappearing story is coming to displace the chronological archive.

Even if a tweet didn’t ruin your life, you still have an archive of embarrassment that Facebook has diligently saved for you: ill-advised jokes, too-earnest expressions of emotion, and photos in which we simply look terrible. While movements like #deletefacebook were ostensibly about protecting your data from corporations, perhaps they also reflected a desire for another kind of privacy: a way to just erase all that unflattering history.

What happens next is probably not the overthrow of Facebook or Twitter especially now that those platforms are making a lot of noise about how they want to change. The need for an online presence, even if it’s just LinkedIn, is a big historical shift, not just a fad. But instead of a handful of big, public platforms, I wonder if we can expect a proliferation of smaller, more private platforms to find their place. Not only are they safer and friendlier, but they also foster a loyalty and intimacy that the big networks simply can’t….

These smaller, temporary spaces produce a similar effect to traditional social media—a space to vent and laugh and carebut without the downsides of a public forum.

There are some things that reverse chronology is good for, and some things where it isn’t. There are some cases where a greater visibility and intercommunication is exactly what you want, and some where you want the exact opposite. But we’re also riding the wave of dozens if not hundreds of subtly shaping decisions that are not ours, and maybe were never ours. We can only change them if we understand them first.

That’s a tall order for anyone, even if you weren’t here for the entire history of how everything unfolded in the first place.

05 Jul 07:18

Hours before a critical EU vote on mass internet censorship, European Wikipedia projects go dark

by Cory Doctorow

Tomorrow, July 5, the European Parliament will vote on whether to conduct a debate and review of the new copyright directive that was approved by the legislative committee last month. (more…)

02 Jul 08:35

Harlan Ellison

by Neil Gaiman


I was in LA two weeks ago, to record the person who is playing the actual Voice of God in Good Omens. I had hoped for a long enough trip to see old friends and catch up with the world, but the trip was immediately truncated, as I was needed in Toronto where they having press days for the next season of American Gods. I had time, between leaving the airport and getting to my hotel, to see a friend.

I went to see Harlan and Susan Ellison. Harlan's been my friend for 33 years. We met in 1985, in the Central hotel in Glasgow, where he was Guest of Honour at the Eastercon. I was there as a young journalist to do an interview with him for a magazine that went out of business between me handing in the interview and them printing it. They were closed down by the publisher after printing the black and white pages of the magazine but before they printed the colour pages (which cost more). I sold the interview to another magazine, and the editor was immediately fired and everything he had bought spiked. And then I put the article away, convinced it was a Jonah.

A couple of years later, when I had just started writing comics, Harlan phoned me up to shout at me about having Batman break the law by entering a hotel room without a warrant ("But that's why he wears a mask," I said. "So he can break the law.").  That wound up with me turning up at his house, the next time I was in LA for a signing,  bringing with french fries, the kind he liked. And after that we were friends.

A phone call from Harlan was still like a phone call from a tropical storm that's about to turn hurricane. My assistant Lorraine dreaded them.

I've written about Harlan a few times over the years. I wrote the introduction to his collection The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World.

A few quotes from it:

It has, from time to time, occurred to me that Harlan Ellison is engaged on a Gutzon Borglum–sized work of performance art—something huge and enduring. It’s called Harlan Ellison: a corpus of anecdotes and tales and adversaries and performances and friends and articles and opinions and rumors and explosions and treasures and echoes and downright lies. People talk about Harlan Ellison, and they write about Harlan, and some of them would burn him at the stake if they could do it without getting into too much trouble and some of them would probably worship at his feet if it weren’t for the fact he’d say something that would make them feel very small and very stupid. People tell stories in Harlan’s wake, and some of them are true and some of them aren’t, and some of them are to his credit and some of them aren’t . . . 
That was true until he died. (Gutzon Borglum was the man who carved the faces into Mount Rushmore.)   I also wrote in the introduction about me and Harlan. This is part of what I wrote:

I’ve had a personal relationship with Harlan Ellison for much longer than I’ve known him. Which is the scariest thing about being a writer, because you make up stories and write stuff down and that’s what you do. But people read it and it affects them or it whiles away your train journey, whatever, and they wind up moved or changed or comforted by the author, whatever the strange process is, the one-way communication from the stuff they read. And it’s not why the stories were written. But it is true and it happens.  
I was eleven when my father gave me two of the Carr-Wollheim Best SF anthologies and I read “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” and discovered Harlan. Over the next few years I bought everything of his I could find. I still have most of those books. 
When I was twenty-one I had the worst day of my life. (Up to then, anyway. There have been two pretty bad days since. But this was worse than them.) And there was nothing in the airport to read but Shatterday, which I bought. I got onto the plane, and read it crossing the Atlantic. (How bad a day was it? It was so bad I was slightly disappointed when the plane touched down gently at Heathrow without bursting into flames. That’s how bad it was.) 
And on the plane I read Shatterday, which is a collection of mostly kick-ass stories—and introductions to stories—about the relationship between writers and stories. Harlan told me about wasting time (in “Count the Clock That Tells the Time”), and I thought, fuck it, I could be a writer. And he told me that anything more than twelve minutes of personal pain was self-indulgence, which did more to jerk me out of the state of complete numbness I was in than anything else could have done. And when I got home I took all the pain and the fear and the grief, and all the conviction that maybe I was a writer, damn it, and I began to write. And I haven’t stopped yet.  
Shatterday, more or less, made me what I am today. Your fault, Ellison.

And it's true too. The urging voice in the back of my head, when I was a young writer, the one that drove me forward, that voice was Harlan's from his introductions and essays: fierce, unapologetic, self-shaped and determined. I wasn't that person, but Harlan's voice lit a fuse that kept burning. And Harlan demystified writing. The way he described it, it was something you could do. It was within your reach. And you could get better.

He was his own worst enemy, and that's even more impressive when you stop to think that he is the only person I know to have actually had an official Enemy group (for a while they actually called themselves the Enemies of Ellison). He inspired great loyalties and great enmities, and thought it a huge character failing in me that I really liked most people (including several of the Enemies of Ellison) and that most people seemed to like me.

Harlan and I stayed real friends, through ups and through downs.  The most recent down was his stroke, three years ago. He went to bed and didn't get up again. He had been a fighter, but he stopped fighting. Was not always there: lost memories, was sometimes confused, was still Harlan.

I was very aware that each time I saw him could be the last. We were painfully honest with each other. You try not to leave things unsaid, when death's in the air.

The last time I saw him he was more himself than at any time in the last few years. But a milder version of himself. He wanted me to tell him the set-up to a joke I had told him 15 years ago that, he said, was the funniest joke he'd ever heard, but he had forgotten how to tell it, and I did, and he laughed again.  I told him about the Mermaid Parade, and Amanda and Ash. (I took Amanda to meet Harlan, when we first started dating, in the way you take someone to meet the family.) He said he had learned from Susan how to be at peace with things, and that she had learned, in the 32 years they had been together, how to be angry.

Yesterday, I left the Good Omens edit, and saw that I had missed several calls. I called Susan Ellison, and she told me the news, that Harlan had died in his sleep.

I am glad he went peacefully.

I loved him. He was family, and I will miss him very much.

He left behind a lot of stories. But it seems to me, from the number of people reaching out to me and explaining that he inspired them, that they became writers from reading him or from listening to him on the radio or from seeing him talk (sometimes it feels like 90% of the people who came to see Harlan and Peter David and me talk after 911 at MIT have gone on to become writers) and that his real legacy was of writers and storytellers and people who were changed by his stories.

27 Jun 07:29

After a ridiculous days-long bad-faith debate on civility, can the press manage to learn self-respect?

by Matthew Yglesias

Everyone knows Trump supporters don’t care about decorum.

In mid-August of 2012, Joe Biden’s advance team asked Chris McMurray, the owner of the Crumb and Get It Cookie Company in Virginia, if the vice president could do a stop at his shop. McMurray, as his right as a business owner, declined, citing political disagreements with the Obama-Biden administration.

The story made the local news, then via conservative blogs came to the attention of the influential Drudge Report, which put McMurray on the national political radar. The Republican National Committee thought it was a great story that underscored heroic resistance to the Obama presidency.

Paul Ryan, at the time the Republican Party’s vice presidential nominee, liked McMurray’s story so much that he asked McMurray to introduce him at an August 22 rally in Roanoke, Virginia.

“We are gathered here today to send a message to the Obama-Biden team that we did build it,” McMurray told the crowd, referencing an Obama statement that the GOP willfully misportrayed and then spent months messaging around as a gaffe.

“Nothing personal,” he said while elaborating on the story about his heroic refusal to host Joe Biden, “but I just happened to disagree with the president and the vice president on a few things.”

None of this was a major story at the time since, obviously, it’s not important. But it is useful context to recall during the national feeding frenzy that’s taken place over the past few days over the owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Virginia’s decision to decline to serve a meal to Sarah Sanders.

And, yes, even without the specific context of Ryan and his hero McMurray the cookie guy, it should be obvious that zero political supporters of Donald Trump — Donald Trump! — are sincerely motivated by concern about civility in politics. Most of these stories, meanwhile, somehow manage to neglect the fact that Trump supporters are actively terrorizing not just the Red Hen that snubbed Sanders but other restaurants that share the same name, too.

But there is nonetheless an important story here as both the mainstream media and a significant chunk of the Democratic Party were led around by the nose into a controversy that was motivated by a nearly perfect storm of bad faith. It happened over and over again during the 2016 presidential campaign, as Trump led us into bad-faith arguments over everything from Hillary Clinton’s health to her ties to Wall Street to her charitable foundation and beyond, even as everyone covering the campaign knew that Trump had done no medical disclosure, was running on bank deregulation, and had been caught red-handed running a fake charity.

The bottomless well of conservative bad faith

And since Election Day, the same nightmare has recurred over and over again.

We have debated, time and again, whether the FBI was biased against Trump in the election. We do this even though its agents lied to the New York Times to cover up the existence of an open counterintelligence probe of his shady ties to Russia, while the FBI director’s letter to Congress decisively tilted the election in Trump’s favor.

We’ve completed ignored Trump’s routine reliance on an insecure smartphone, even as conservatives pretended to believe compliance with government IT rules was the central issue of the 2016 election. Matt and Mercedes Schlapp become the toast of the American right by walking out of a Michelle Wolf comedy routine that they pretended to be offended by, scattering tweets feigning disdain toward media elite, all while en route to the MSNBC after-party.

We’ve entertained the obviously false proposition that that Trump lost the popular vote due to millions of fraudulent ballots, that telling ICE to stop focusing on deporting violent criminals and start deporting random workers is an effective way to combat MS-13, and that giant tax cuts will reduce the budget deficit.

At some point, you can’t really blame liars for lying.

Can the press learn self-respect?

But you can reasonably ask why so much of the press insists on pretending to believe conservatives when they pretend to care about something or other. I don’t think Ed O’Keefe or the other producers of the CBS Evening News are simpletons who sincerely believe Donald Trump’s political supporters are really outraged at the prospect of a breach of customary standards of conduct.

Nor do I think they’re daft individuals who sincerely believe that this is an important political story. But I couldn’t quite tell you what they do think is going on here.

The good news is that, for the short-term, at least, it doesn’t really matter. Donald Trump is not popular today and he was not popular on Election Day. His opponents’ proximate challenge in the midterms is to put forward candidates compelling enough that as large as possible a share of the 56 percent of the 2016 electorate who voted for non-Trump candidates show up and vote for a member of the opposition party. That’s not really something media coverage can have much care over.

But as someone who works in the field and consumes a ton of journalism, I do wish the press could muster a modicum of self-respect when it comes to conservative bad faith.

Just because a liar says something obviously false and gets it repeated on Fox News doesn’t mean you need to take it seriously.

19 Jun 07:50

Europe's New Link Tax Will Enshrine Big Tech's Stranglehold Over the Internet

by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist, and blogger. He's the co-editor of Boing Boing. He works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is a MIT Media Lab Research Affiliate, is a Visiting Professor of Computer Science at Open University and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group.

On Wednesday, a European Union committee will vote on Article 11, a proposal to create a new copyright over links to news stories. If the proposal is adopted, a service that publishes a link to a story on a news website with a headline or a short snippet would have to get a license before linking. News sites could charge whatever they want for these licenses, and shut down critics by refusing to license to people with whom they disagreed. And the new rule would apply to any service where a link to a news story can appear, including social media platforms, search engines, blogging platforms, and even nonprofits like Wikipedia.

The news sites say that this rule will allow them to extract money from a handful of giant, mostly American internet companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook. Links on those services don't violate existing copyright laws because links, headlines and short snippets are either not copyrightable, or are exempted from copyright under fair dealing. News sites believe they should be getting a share of any profits related to those links, and this is how they propose to do it.

However you feel about the battles between these giant media companies and giant tech companies, you should be worried about this new link tax. For one thing, ironically enough it will help ensure that the tech giants of today can continue to rule the internet. Facebook and Google and Twitter will figure out how to deal with the link tax. Maybe they’ll share some of their profits with the big media companies, or maybe they’ll boycott the media companies until they agree to a “free license” (this is what happened when Germany tried this a few years ago.) Either way, they can afford to manage the cost.

But if you are hoping that someday there will be alternatives to these giants—European alternatives, say, that are responsive to the needs of European citizens, or just platforms that offer something different, maybe no surveillance of their users, or different rules on cyberbullying and harassment—then the link tax dashes your hopes.

The cost of complying with the link tax will make starting a competitor to one of those platforms effectively impossible. For one thing, the EU is planning on leaving the details of the link tax up to each of its 28 member states, with no limits on how restrictive these rules can be. Under Article 11, members could create link taxes that required a license for quoting even very short snippets from an article. Even if some states create more sensible rules, it won't matter, because the only way to stay out of trouble is to comply with all 28 versions of the rule, so the most restrictive rule will be the one to which everyone defaults.

Another problem: it could crush scholarly and encyclopedic projects like Wikipedia that only publish material that can be freely shared. Even if the publishers give open access scholars and Wikipedia free licenses to link to them, those licenses likely won’t be compatible with open access rules.

Worse, this tax could inhibit important political discussions. Links are facts: "There is an article at this address, with this title." They are the facts that tell you what is going on in our public discourse, who is saying what. If you think your government is lying, or if you think the government's critics are lying, or if you think a story is a hoax or disinformation, links are the best way to talk about it with your neighbours.

As usual, the European Parliament is mostly hearing from giant media companies and giant tech companies on this—but they're not hearing from Europeans, the people whose communications are at stake. Neither Big Tech nor Big Content are good proxies for the public interest—both answer to their shareholders, not to democratic discourse.

You have today, tomorrow, and Wednesday to write, call or tweet your MEP; they need to hear from you.

18 Jun 07:52

Varför @historylvrsclub är ett opålitligt skräpkonto

by Hexmaster
Det finns en rad konton på Twitter som ska hanteras med försiktighet. En sort är de som automatiskt twittrar bilder. De letar reda på bild/textpar medelst bottar. Därav följer att de kan twittra ofta och dygnet runt, aldrig svarar på kommentarer, och då och då har fel – eller jättefel. Ofta ser man samma tweets, riktiga eller felaktiga, dyka upp om och om igen ... Eftersom de dessutom ofta har väldigt många följare så är de högeffektiva små faktoidmaskiner.

Det finns många att välja på. Kanske det är effektivare att fokusera på en i taget istället för hela genren? Låt oss, bara som exempel, ta History Lovers Club, @historylvrsclub. Det följer alldeles för många av er. Se bara de här tokigheter, ett litet smakprov på vad det oavbrutet sprätter iväg.

Martin Luther King Jr being attacked as he marched nonviolently for the Chicago Freedom Movement, 1966
Det som är helt fel är intrycket att Marthin Luther King angrips av personerna på bilden. Tvärtom skyddar de honom mot ett pågående angrepp.

19-y-o Shigeki Tanaka, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing, wins the 1951 Boston Marathon before a silent crowd.
Tanaka fick ett varmt välkomnande.

Young girl barely managed to cross the border between East and West Berlin in 1955
Bilden kommer från filmen East Zone, West Zone (1962).

Woodstock, 1969
Bilder som oriktigt tillskrivs Woodstock är en hel liten faktoid sub-genre. Denna bild är givetvis inte äkta. Den kommer från en annons för klädmärket Landlubber. Se HoaxEye: Pictures of Woodstock festival that aren’t

Twitterkontot @hoaxeye är, för att bara nämna ett exempel, ett av flera som bevakar och debunkar skräp som billiga skräpkonton spottar ur sig. Det är där jag hittat samtliga bilder i denna omgång.

13 Jun 07:55

70+ internet pioneers to the EU: you are transforming the internet into a "tool for automated surveillance and control"

In one week, an EU committee will vote on a pair of extreme copyright proposals that will ban linking to news articles without permission, and force internet platforms to spy on all the pictures, text, video, audio and code their users post, sending it to AIs designed to catch copyright infringement and automatically censor anything that might violate copyright.

This is literally the worst internet proposal I've seen outside of China/North Korea/Iran, and if the committee votes in favour of it, the European Parliament is extremely likely to pass it into the law of 28 countries.

A group of more than 70 "internet luminaries" -- from TCP co-inventor Vint Cerf and web inventor Tim Berners-Lee to Bruce Schneier to Apache creator Brian Behlendorf to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales to Mozilla chairman Mitchell Baker and many more -- have signed an open letter to the President of the European Parliament, warning that the proposal "takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users."

If you're a European, you have one week to contact your MEP!

In particular, far from only affecting large American Internet platforms (who can well afford the costs of compliance), the burden of Article 13 will fall most heavily on their competitors, including European startups and SMEs. The cost of putting in place the necessary automatic filtering technologies will be expensive and burdensome, and yet those technologies have still not developed to a point where their reliability can be guaranteed.Indeed, if Article 13 had been in place when Internet’s core protocols and applications were developed, it is unlikely that it would exist today as we know it.

The impact of Article 13 would also fall heavily on ordinary users of Internet platforms—not only those who upload music or video (frequently in reliance upon copyright limitations and exceptions, that Article 13 ignores), but even those who contribute photos, text, or computer code to open collaboration platforms such as Wikipedia and GitHub.

Letter to Antonio Tajani MEP [Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, et al]

Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, and Dozens of Other Computing Experts Oppose Article 13 [Danny O'Brien and Jeremy Malcolm/EFF Deeplinks]

I appeared on CBC Radio's national flagship news programme As It Happens last night, talking about the EU's Article 13 proposal to use AI algorithms to spy on and judge everything posted online for potential copyright infringements.

READ THE REST

Reddit's management have posted a long explainer on the EU's extreme copyright proposal, which would snuff out sites like Reddit and make it impossible to start new ones. It's a great piece, and the discussion is pretty excellent, too.

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There's one week to go until an EU committee votes on a plan to "transform the internet into a tool for surveillance and control," that will permanently cement the place of American internet giants like Google and Facebook, freezing out smaller internet companies (and even large nonprofits like Wikipedia) who lack the tens of millions […]

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Programming is one of today’s most sought-after skills, but with the staggering number of tools and resources out there, figuring out where to start can be challenging for beginners. Ideal for aspiring programmers, the Pay What You Want Web Developer eBook Bundle by Wiley features seven ebooks on today’s essential programming tools, and it’s available for […]

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From your apartment door to your bike lock, it’s not uncommon to carry a number of different keys on your keyring, but that doesn’t make it any more bearable when you’re fussing to find the right one or deal with the infamous pocket bulge. The KeySmart Pro’s smart design cuts down on key clutter and […]

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You have a right to privacy, but whether or not it’s respected online is a different story. With hackers, shady third-party companies, and the government prowling the web for personal information, you can’t be too careful when it comes to protecting yourself online. VPNs have emerged as a popular solution, but not all are created […]

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13 Jun 07:14

Flat Earthers and the double-edged sword of American magical thinking

by Jason Kottke

Alan Burdick recently wrote a piece for The New Yorker about the “burgeoning” flat Earth movement, a group of people who believe, against simple & overwhelming evidence, that the Earth is not spherical1 but flat.

If you are only just waking up to the twenty-first century, you should know that, according to a growing number of people, much of what you’ve been taught about our planet is a lie: Earth really is flat. We know this because dozens, if not hundreds, of YouTube videos describe the coverup. We’ve listened to podcasts — Flat Earth Conspiracy, The Flat Earth Podcast — that parse the minutiae of various flat-Earth models, and the very wonkiness of the discussion indicates that the over-all theory is as sound and valid as any other scientific theory. We know because on a clear, cool day it is sometimes possible, from southwestern Michigan, to see the Chicago skyline, more than fifty miles away — an impossibility were Earth actually curved. We know because, last February, Kyrie Irving, the Boston Celtics point guard, told us so. “The Earth is flat,” he said. “It’s right in front of our faces. I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.”

John Gruber remarked on Burdick’s piece by saying:

In recent years I’ve begun to feel conflicted about the internet. On the one hand, it’s been wonderful in so many ways. I’ve personally built my entire career on the fact that the internet enables me to publish as a one-person operation. But on the other hand, before the internet, kooks were forced to exist on the fringe. There’ve always been flat-earther-types denying science and John Birch Society political fringers, but they had no means to amplify their message or bond into large movements.

Another way to put this is that all the people who bought those News of the World-style magazines from the grocery checkout — UFO sightings! Elvis lives! NASA faked the Moon landing! new treatment lets you live 200 years! etc.! — were able to find each other, organize, and mobilize because of the internet. And then they decided to elect one of themselves President.

I recently downloaded the audiobook of Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History and am looking forward to listening to it on my summer roadtrip. Here’s part of the synopsis:

In this sweeping, eloquent history of America, Kurt Andersen shows that what’s happening in our country today — this post-factual, “fake news” moment we’re all living through — is not something new, but rather the ultimate expression of our national character. America was founded by wishful dreamers, magical thinkers, and true believers, by hucksters and their suckers. Fantasy is deeply embedded in our DNA.

Over the course of five centuries — from the Salem witch trials to Scientology to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, from P. T. Barnum to Hollywood and the anything-goes, wild-and-crazy sixties, from conspiracy theories to our fetish for guns and obsession with extraterrestrials — our love of the fantastic has made America exceptional in a way that we’ve never fully acknowledged. From the start, our ultra-individualism was attached to epic dreams and epic fantasies — every citizen was free to believe absolutely anything, or to pretend to be absolutely anybody.

Gruber’s point about the internet being a double-edged sword appears to be echoed here by Andersen about American individualism. Sure, this “if people disagree with you, you must be doing something right” spirit is responsible for the anti-vaxxer movement, conspiracy theories that 9/11 was an inside job & Newtown didn’t happen, climate change denialism, and anti-evolutionism, but it also gets you things like rock & roll, putting men on the Moon, and countless discoveries & inventions, including the internet.

Update: The Atlantic published an excerpt of Fantasyland last year:

I first noticed our national lurch toward fantasy in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness. “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books — they’re all fact, no heart … Face it, folks, we are a divided nation … divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart … Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen — the gut.”

Whoa, yes, I thought: exactly. America had changed since I was young, when truthiness and reality-based community wouldn’t have made any sense as jokes. For all the fun, and all the many salutary effects of the 1960s — the main decade of my childhood — I saw that those years had also been the big-bang moment for truthiness. And if the ’60s amounted to a national nervous breakdown, we are probably mistaken to consider ourselves over it.

(thx, david)

  1. More properly, the Earth is an oblate spheroid.

Tags: Alan Burdick   Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire   John Gruber   Kurt Andersen   science   USA
12 Jun 06:08

‘Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin’ Is a Beautiful Tour of Her Life and Fiction

by Daniel Oberhaus

This article is part of the Motherboard Guide to Cinema , a semi-regular column exploring foreign and obscure speculative films.


On January 22, the writer Ursula K. Le Guin died in her home in Portland, Oregon, at the age of 88. She left behind three children, her husband, and a prolific body of fiction from a six decade career as a groundbreaking American writer. Yet an author can never be reduced to their work and obituary writers were tasked with answering a nearly impossible question: Who was Ursula K. Le Guin?

This is the question haunting Arwen Curry’s new documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, which premiered last weekend at the Sheffield Doc Fest in England. While making no pretensions to any definitive answer, Curry’s hour-long film orbits this question like a moon around one of the innumerable alien world’s conjured by Le Guin in her fiction.

Made over the course of the last decade of Le Guin’s life, Curry paints an intimate and multifaceted portrait of the late author. There’s Le Guin as the young, struggling writer whose fiction is dismissed by editors as being too heady to find an audience; Le Guin as the pipe-smoking feminist shaking up the male-dominated science fiction scene; Le Guin the mother and anarchist; and finally, Le Guin as the aging anti-capitalist National Book Award winner who is sick and tired of profiteers ruining literature.

Le Guin’s major fictions serve as the scaffolding of the documentary and—one suspects—her own life. Beginning with Le Guin’s breakthrough success with the young adult novel A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), Curry upholds the titular promise of the film and takes the viewer on a tour of the many worlds of Le Guin. The islands of the Earthsea trilogy and the planets of The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Dispossessed (1974) are brilliantly animated by Em Cooper and Molly Schwartz, while Le Guin and those closest to her relate the major events in the author’s life.

Although Le Guin hated to be pigeonholed as a science fiction writer—she preferred the term “American author”—she was, in a way, born to tell stories that are both fantastical and scientific. Her father was Alfred Louis Kroeber, a foundational figure in the field of cultural anthropology who dedicated his life to documenting the decline of the Native American population in California. Kroeber is perhaps best known for his friendship with Ishi, the last remaining member of the Yahi people, who spent the final five years of his life living at the University of California after he emerged from the wilderness beyond the school in 1911.

Alfred Louis Kroeber and Ishi ca. 1915. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Le Guin grew up surrounded by academics and people from cultures radically different from her own, and the influence of this upbringing is strongly reflected in her fiction. Many of Le Guin’s most famous novels and stories are based around first contact, often involving a single person encountering a radically different civilization. In Left Hand, the protagonist visits an ice-bound planet inhabited by a race of androgynous humanoids who only become sexually active once per month. In The Dispossessed, a brilliant anarchist physicist is the first to visit his culture’s capitalist home planet in nearly 200 years. The two stories won the preeminent honors for science fiction—the Hugo and Nebula awards—making Le Guin the first person to ever win both awards for two back-to-back novels.

Although Le Guin’s fiction is often described as fantasy, she used her writing as a way to explore radical alternatives to the way the real world works.

“I was more interested in exploring alternatives to violence and exploitation,” Le Guin explains in the film. “This was the late 60s and people were asking what might a perfect society look like? Thinking about that question brought me to non-violent anarchism. I think anarchist thinking is one of those profoundly radical ways of thinking that is very fruitful, very generative.”

Le Guin’s affinity for anti-capitalism and anarchist thought would carry through to the end of her life. When she won the 2014 National Book Award for her “distinguished contribution to American letters,” she used the opportunity to speak out against the commodification of literature and major publishing platforms like Amazon.

“Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art,” Le Guin said during her speech. “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable. But then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art.”

Curry said it was this anti-authoritarian way of thinking and Le Guin’s penchant for speaking truth to power that attracted her to the author as a documentary subject. When Curry first conceived The Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin in 2008, she was a graduate student in journalism with no documentary film experience. But her desire to capture the spirit of Le Guin and her work drove Curry to learn documentary techniques so she could shape the film. As Curry told me on the phone, “my whole career has been shaped along with this project.”

At the time, Curry was working as an editor for the punk magazine Maximum Rocknroll and was put in contact with Le Guin through a mutual friend. Although she said Le Guin was initially receptive to the idea of a documentary, there was one big problem.

“She was very generous with her time and gave all kinds of interviews in print and on the radio, but she seldom did on-camera interviews,” Curry told me. “She had never really felt comfortable on camera. That was a big thing to get past.”

Read more: We Lost Ursula K. Le Guin When We Needed Her Most

Curry initially expected the documentary to be wrapped in a few years, but funding problems and life events turned the documentary into a decade-long affair. Over that time, Curry said she became friends with Le Guin and their dozens of hours of interviews began to feel more like conversations. Curry captures this sense of intimacy masterfully in the film by exposing both Le Guin’s light-hearted humor and her more serious, high-minded idealism.

“I tried, but I don't think I can really get across in the film what it's really like to know Urusla K. Le Guin,” Curry said. “She’s a very funny person and had this incredible mind. But when she’s sitting there and cracking jokes, she’s also thinking at this very high level of every nuance of what you’re saying. Yet she never came off as someone who was superior or aloof.”

Le Guin never got to see a final version of Curry’s film, although she did see a rough cut in the months before her death. Curry told me she was wrapping up edits on the film last January when a friend informed her that Le Guin had died. Although the news wasn’t exactly a surprise—Le Guin had been struggling with health issues for months—Curry said it’s still hard to accept that she’s gone.

“I'm just now starting to believe that it's real,” Curry told me. “Even when she died, I had this impulse to talk to her about it because of how fundamental she feels when you know her in your life. She's one of those people you just can't imagine not being there.”

12 Jun 05:58

Hur känns det?

by fthunholm

I ett blogginlägg från Kantar SIFO, skriver affärsområdeschefen Jonathan Wennö om en undersökning gjord av den amerikanske sociologen Katherin J. Cramers. I den visar hon hur värderingar i det rurala Wisconsin har förändrats. Folk som var demokrater/GAL nyss, blev på bara några år republikaner/TAN.

Hon menar att skälet är att de här personerna upplever sig svikna – av media, politiker och människor med liberala värderingar. De känner att de ignoreras av beslutsfattare, att de inte får sin rättmätiga del av resurserna och att deras livsstil inte respekteras av de som bor i stan.

Wennö menar apropå detta, att det finns ”anledning att ställa sig frågan om de etablerade partierna verkligen förstått de känslor som gror i Sverige?”. Därför har Kantar SIFO undersökt hur SD-väljarna upplever sin situation. Och dessa känner sig svikna på exakt samma sätt som människorna på landsbygden i Wisconsin. Och betoningen ska, för båda grupperna, ligga helt och hållet på känner. Vilket är helt rimligt i dessa tider, när känslor tillmäts extremt stor betydelse. Alla har en egen sanning. Det kanske inte är på det ena eller andra sättet, men det känns så.

De är arga. Och det rimliga för just de här människorna är att rikta ilskan mot invandrarna. Det kanske inte är invandrarna som gör att skolan i samhället läggs ner eller som får tillverkningsindustrin på orten att slå igen. Det kanske inte är de som gör att närmaste förlossningsmottagning ligger 13 mil bort. Men de pratar konstigt och högljutt och dom klär sig ju helt jävla stört. Och snor i butiken har man ju hört. Och får massa konstiga bidrag. Kör mercedes. Sitter och tigger. Odlar lök i parketten.

Den här relativiseringen av sanningen brukar av högermänniskor föraktfullt kallas postmodernism. Och det är roten till allt ont. Utom, då, när det är arga mäniskor på landet som känner något. Då är det superbra och viktigt och relevant. Konstigt va?

Det gör att de arga människorna på landet omhuldas av de här högermänniskorna, som annars också brukar vara ganska bra på att prata om eget ansvar. Nu är det istället viktigt att lyssna på SD-väljarna. Viktigt att lyssna på folk på mindre orter som känner en massa saker. Som inte har något eget ansvar. För det är alla andras fel.

Och SD-väljarna är inte rasister egentligen. Detta är också viktigt för deras apologeter att hävda. ”Nej nej, de mäter ju inte skallar eller förbjuder svarta att sitta på bussen.” Som ju är de två enda sätten att definiera rasism. Nej, de tycker bara det är sjukt med muslimer och prideparaden och alla som bor på Södermalm och hantverksöl och sossar och att man inte ens kan få sig en sillamacka i Malmö. De provoceras av saker som låneord och falafel. Det är eliten som är problemet.

Kantar SIFO har nu lyssnat på SD-väljarna, vilka känner i lägre utsträckning att politiker lyssnar, att de får valuta för skatterna och att de är respekterade av samhället. Och för att travestera Henrik Tikkanen: Nu har jag fått all information; nu vill jag veta vad i helvete jag ska göra med den.

 

Jag vill veta. Jag vill veta hur ni de som säger att ”vi måsta lyssna på SD-väljarna” tänker använda det för att göra något av det. Är det det terapeutiska i lyssnandet? Är det symbolhandlingen? Jag begriper inte, som sagt. Jag fattar inte.

11 Jun 07:35

Don’€™t Eat Before Reading This

Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay. It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger—risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese, and shellfish. Your first two hundred and seven Wellfleet oysters may transport you to a state of rapture, but your two hundred and eighth may send you to bed with the sweats, chills, and vomits.

Gastronomy is the science of pain. Professional cooks belong to a secret society whose ancient rituals derive from the principles of stoicism in the face of humiliation, injury, fatigue, and the threat of illness. The members of a tight, well-greased kitchen staff are a lot like a submarine crew. Confined for most of their waking hours in hot, airless spaces, and ruled by despotic leaders, they often acquire the characteristics of the poor saps who were press-ganged into the royal navies of Napoleonic times—superstition, a contempt for outsiders, and a loyalty to no flag but their own.

A good deal has changed since Orwell’s memoir of the months he spent as a dishwasher in “Down and Out in Paris and London.” Gas ranges and exhaust fans have gone a long way toward increasing the life span of the working culinarian. Nowadays, most aspiring cooks come into the business because they want to: they have chosen this life, studied for it. Today’s top chefs are like star athletes. They bounce from kitchen to kitchen—free agents in search of more money, more acclaim.

I’ve been a chef in New York for more than ten years, and, for the decade before that, a dishwasher, a prep drone, a line cook, and a sous-chef. I came into the business when cooks still smoked on the line and wore headbands. A few years ago, I wasn’t surprised to hear rumors of a study of the nation’s prison population which reportedly found that the leading civilian occupation among inmates before they were put behind bars was “cook.” As most of us in the restaurant business know, there is a powerful strain of criminality in the industry, ranging from the dope-dealing busboy with beeper and cell phone to the restaurant owner who has two sets of accounting books. In fact, it was the unsavory side of professional cooking that attracted me to it in the first place. In the early seventies, I dropped out of college and transferred to the Culinary Institute of America. I wanted it all: the cuts and burns on hands and wrists, the ghoulish kitchen humor, the free food, the pilfered booze, the camaraderie that flourished within rigid order and nerve-shattering chaos. I would climb the chain of command from mal carne (meaning “bad meat,” or “new guy”) to chefdom—doing whatever it took until I ran my own kitchen and had my own crew of cutthroats, the culinary equivalent of “The Wild Bunch.”

A year ago, my latest, doomed mission—a high-profile restaurant in the Times Square area—went out of business. The meat, fish, and produce purveyors got the news that they were going to take it in the neck for yet another ill-conceived enterprise. When customers called for reservations, they were informed by a prerecorded announcement that our doors had closed. Fresh from that experience, I began thinking about becoming a traitor to my profession.

Say it’s a quiet Monday night, and you’ve just checked your coat in that swanky Art Deco update in the Flatiron district, and you’re looking to tuck into a thick slab of pepper-crusted yellowfin tuna or a twenty-ounce cut of certified Black Angus beef, well-done—what are you in for?

The fish specialty is reasonably priced, and the place got two stars in the Times. Why not go for it? If you like four-day-old fish, be my guest. Here’s how things usually work. The chef orders his seafood for the weekend on Thursday night. It arrives on Friday morning. He’s hoping to sell the bulk of it on Friday and Saturday nights, when he knows that the restaurant will be busy, and he’d like to run out of the last few orders by Sunday evening. Many fish purveyors don’t deliver on Saturday, so the chances are that the Monday-night tuna you want has been kicking around in the kitchen since Friday morning, under God knows what conditions. When a kitchen is in full swing, proper refrigeration is almost nonexistent, what with the many openings of the refrigerator door as the cooks rummage frantically during the rush, mingling your tuna with the chicken, the lamb, or the beef. Even if the chef has ordered just the right amount of tuna for the weekend, and has had to reorder it for a Monday delivery, the only safeguard against the seafood supplier’s off-loading junk is the presence of a vigilant chef who can make sure that the delivery is fresh from Sunday night’s market.

Generally speaking, the good stuff comes in on Tuesday: the seafood is fresh, the supply of prepared food is new, and the chef, presumably, is relaxed after his day off. (Most chefs don’t work on Monday.) Chefs prefer to cook for weekday customers rather than for weekenders, and they like to start the new week with their most creative dishes. In New York, locals dine during the week. Weekends are considered amateur nights—for tourists, rubes, and the well-done-ordering pretheatre hordes. The fish may be just as fresh on Friday, but it’s on Tuesday that you’ve got the good will of the kitchen on your side.

People who order their meat well-done perform a valuable service for those of us in the business who are cost-conscious: they pay for the privilege of eating our garbage. In many kitchens, there’s a time-honored practice called “save for well-done.” When one of the cooks finds a particularly unlovely piece of steak—tough, riddled with nerve and connective tissue, off the hip end of the loin, and maybe a little stinky from age—he’ll dangle it in the air and say, “Hey, Chef, whaddya want me to do with this?” Now, the chef has three options. He can tell the cook to throw the offending item into the trash, but that means a total loss, and in the restaurant business every item of cut, fabricated, or prepared food should earn at least three times the amount it originally cost if the chef is to make his correct food-cost percentage. Or he can decide to serve that steak to “the family”—that is, the floor staff—though that, economically, is the same as throwing it out. But no. What he’s going to do is repeat the mantra of cost-conscious chefs everywhere: “Save for well-done.” The way he figures it, the philistine who orders his food well-done is not likely to notice the difference between food and flotsam.

Then there are the People Who Brunch. The “B” word is dreaded by all dedicated cooks. We hate the smell and spatter of omelettes. We despise hollandaise, home fries, those pathetic fruit garnishes, and all the other cliché accompaniments designed to induce a credulous public into paying $12.95 for two eggs. Nothing demoralizes an aspiring Escoffier faster than requiring him to cook egg-white omelettes or eggs over easy with bacon. You can dress brunch up with all the focaccia, smoked salmon, and caviar in the world, but it’s still breakfast.

Even more despised than the Brunch People are the vegetarians. Serious cooks regard these members of the dining public—and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans—as enemies of everything that’s good and decent in the human spirit. To live life without veal or chicken stock, fish cheeks, sausages, cheese, or organ meats is treasonous.

Like most other chefs I know, I’m amused when I hear people object to pork on nonreligious grounds. “Swine are filthy animals,” they say. These people have obviously never visited a poultry farm. Chicken—America’s favorite food—goes bad quickly; handled carelessly, it infects other foods with salmonella; and it bores the hell out of chefs. It occupies its ubiquitous place on menus as an option for customers who can’t decide what they want to eat. Most chefs believe that supermarket chickens in this country are slimy and tasteless compared with European varieties. Pork, on the other hand, is cool. Farmers stopped feeding garbage to pigs decades ago, and even if you eat pork rare you’re more likely to win the Lotto than to contract trichinosis. Pork tastes different, depending on what you do with it, but chicken always tastes like chicken.

Another much maligned food these days is butter. In the world of chefs, however, butter is in everything. Even non-French restaurants—the Northern Italian; the new American, the ones where the chef brags about how he’s “getting away from butter and cream”—throw butter around like crazy. In almost every restaurant worth patronizing, sauces are enriched with mellowing, emulsifying butter. Pastas are tightened with it. Meat and fish are seared with a mixture of butter and oil. Shallots and chicken are caramelized with butter. It’s the first and last thing in almost every pan: the final hit is called “monter au beurre.” In a good restaurant, what this all adds up to is that you could be putting away almost a stick of butter with every meal.

If you are one of those people who cringe at the thought of strangers fondling your food, you shouldn’t go out to eat. As the author and former chef Nicolas Freeling notes in his definitive book “The Kitchen,” the better the restaurant, the more your food has been prodded, poked, handled, and tasted. By the time a three-star crew has finished carving and arranging your saddle of monkfish with dried cherries and wild-herb-infused nage into a Parthenon or a Space Needle, it’s had dozens of sweaty fingers all over it. Gloves? You’ll find a box of surgical gloves—in my kitchen we call them “anal-research gloves”—over every station on the line, for the benefit of the health inspectors, but does anyone actually use them? Yes, a cook will slip a pair on every now and then, especially when he’s handling something with a lingering odor, like salmon. But during the hours of service gloves are clumsy and dangerous. When you’re using your hands constantly, latex will make you drop things, which is the last thing you want to do.

Finding a hair in your food will make anyone gag. But just about the only place you’ll see anyone in the kitchen wearing a hat or a hairnet is Blimpie. For most chefs, wearing anything on their head, especially one of those picturesque paper toques—they’re often referred to as “coffee filters”—is a nuisance: they dissolve when you sweat, bump into range hoods, burst into flame.

The fact is that most good kitchens are far less septic than your kitchen at home. I run a scrupulously clean, orderly restaurant kitchen, where food is rotated and handled and stored very conscientiously. But if the city’s Department of Health or the E.P.A. decided to enforce every aspect of its codes, most of us would be out on the street. Recently, there was a news report about the practice of recycling bread. By means of a hidden camera in a restaurant, the reporter was horrified to see returned bread being sent right back out to the floor. This, to me, wasn’t news: the reuse of bread has been an open secret—and a fairly standard practice—in the industry for years. It makes more sense to worry about what happens to the leftover table butter—many restaurants recycle it for hollandaise.

What do I like to eat after hours? Strange things. Oysters are my favorite, especially at three in the morning, in the company of my crew. Focaccia pizza with robiola cheese and white truffle oil is good, especially at Le Madri on a summer afternoon in the outdoor patio. Frozen vodka at Siberia Bar is also good, particularly if a cook from one of the big hotels shows up with beluga. At Indigo, on Tenth Street, I love the mushroom strudel and the daube of beef. At my own place, I love a spicy boudin noir that squirts blood in your mouth; the braised fennel the way my sous-chef makes it; scraps from duck confit; and fresh cockles steamed with greasy Portuguese sausage.

I love the sheer weirdness of the kitchen life: the dreamers, the crackpots, the refugees, and the sociopaths with whom I continue to work; the ever-present smells of roasting bones, searing fish, and simmering liquids; the noise and clatter, the hiss and spray, the flames, the smoke, and the steam. Admittedly, it’s a life that grinds you down. Most of us who live and operate in the culinary underworld are in some fundamental way dysfunctional. We’ve all chosen to turn our backs on the nine-to-five, on ever having a Friday or Saturday night off, on ever having a normal relationship with a non-cook.

Being a chef is a lot like being an air-traffic controller: you are constantly dealing with the threat of disaster. You’ve got to be Mom and Dad, drill sergeant, detective, psychiatrist, and priest to a crew of opportunistic, mercenary hooligans, whom you must protect from the nefarious and often foolish strategies of owners. Year after year, cooks contend with bouncing paychecks, irate purveyors, desperate owners looking for the masterstroke that will cure their restaurant’s ills: Live Cabaret! Free Shrimp! New Orleans Brunch!

In America, the professional kitchen is the last refuge of the misfit. It’s a place for people with bad pasts to find a new family. It’s a haven for foreigners—Ecuadorians, Mexicans, Chinese, Senegalese, Egyptians, Poles. In New York, the main linguistic spice is Spanish. “Hey, maricón! chupa mis huevos” means, roughly, “How are you, valued comrade? I hope all is well.” And you hear “Hey, baboso! Put some more brown jiz on the fire and check your meez before the sous comes back there and fucks you in the culo!,” which means “Please reduce some additional demi-glace, brother, and reëxamine your mise en place, because the sous-chef is concerned about your state of readiness.”

Since we work in close quarters, and so many blunt and sharp objects are at hand, you’d think that cooks would kill one another with regularity. I’ve seen guys duking it out in the waiter station over who gets a table for six. I’ve seen a chef clamp his teeth on a waiter’s nose. And I’ve seen plates thrown—I’ve even thrown a few myself—but I’ve never heard of one cook jamming a boning knife into another cook’s rib cage or braining him with a meat mallet. Line cooking, done well, is a dance—a highspeed, Balanchine collaboration.

I used to be a terror toward my floor staff, particularly in the final months of my last restaurant. But not anymore. Recently, my career has taken an eerily appropriate turn: these days, I’m the chef de cuisine of a much loved, old-school French brasserie/bistro where the customers eat their meat rare, vegetarians are scarce, and every part of the animal—hooves, snout, cheeks, skin, and organs—is avidly and appreciatively prepared and consumed. Cassoulet, pigs’ feet, tripe, and charcuterie sell like crazy. We thicken many sauces with foie gras and pork blood, and proudly hurl around spoonfuls of duck fat and butter, and thick hunks of country bacon. I made a traditional French pot-au-feu a few weeks ago, and some of my French colleagues—hardened veterans of the business all—came into my kitchen to watch the first order go out. As they gazed upon the intimidating heap of short ribs, oxtail, beef shoulder, cabbage, turnips, carrots, and potatoes, the expressions on their faces were those of religious supplicants. I have come home. ♦

07 Jun 06:26

If wages are to rise, workers need more bargaining power

“IT’S just not going to happen,” said Troy Taylor, the boss of a Coca Cola bottling company, when asked at a recent Federal Reserve event whether he foresaw broad-based wage gains. His remarks (unlike the fizzy drinks he sells) were unsweetened. But experience suggests he may have a point. In most rich countries, real pay has grown by at most 1% per year, on average, since 2000. For low-wage workers the stagnation has been more severe and prolonged: between 1979 and 2016, pay adjusted for inflation for the bottom fifth of American earners barely rose at all. Politicians are scrambling for scapegoats and solutions. But addressing stagnant wages requires a better understanding of the relationship between pay, productivity and power.

In the simplest economic models, productivity is almost all that matters. Workers are paid exactly and precisely in accordance with their contribution to a firm’s output. Were they paid less, rival employers could profit by luring them away with higher pay, and wages would be bid up until they came into line with productivity. Firms paying more than workers contribute would be losing out for no reason.

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This sort of view suggests a few ways to improve workers’ lot. Governments could pursue policies that would help workers move from low-productivity jobs to high-productivity ones, for instance. That might mean investing in education and training, or removing obstacles to relocation or moving from one employer to another, such as high housing costs in places with productive companies, or laws that enforce non-compete clauses in job contracts. When productivity-boosting strategies are not enough to do the trick, a government’s best option is to top up low pay as efficiently as possible. Economists favour wage subsidies, such as Milton Friedman’s proposed negative income tax, which influenced the design of America’s earned-income tax credit. Such subsidies encourage people to stay in work in order to qualify, and do not make workers more expensive and thus discourage hiring. They are also simple to administer.

But it has long been clear that wage-setting is more complicated than the simplest models allow. Growth in pay is linked to growth in productivity, as Anna Stansbury and Lawrence Summers noted in a paper last year. But other influences seem to depress wages. Thus labour productivity rose by 75% in America from 1973 to 2016, while average pay rose by less than 50% and median pay by just over 10%. A direct link between pay and productivity would imply that raising the minimum wage would automatically cut employment, as those workers who had been paid according to their contributions suddenly became overpaid (and, shortly thereafter, unemployed). But no such clear, negative relationship shows up in the data.

The reason, economists reckon, is power. New hires generate a surplus, reflecting the fact that both worker and firm expect to gain from the transaction. Wage bargaining is a negotiation over how to split this surplus. If firms have the upper hand, because a new job is harder to find than a new worker, employers capture most of the surplus, creating a gap between the value created by workers and what they are paid. A rise in the minimum wage could then boost pay without reducing employment by redistributing some of this surplus, leaving a firm with a smaller gain than before, but a gain nonetheless.

There is good reason to think that power imbalances play a big part in the rich world’s wage stagnation. Product markets have become more concentrated, meaning that fewer firms account for a larger share of output. That increases companies’ power in labour markets, since workers are less able to find alternative employment or to pit rival employers against each other in a bidding war. In a recent paper Suresh Naidu, Eric Posner and Glen Weyl estimate that this rise in firms’ power may reduce labour’s share of national income by as much as a fifth. They argue that one way to help struggling workers might be to use antitrust policies to make product markets less concentrated and more competitive.

A complementary approach would be to increase workers’ power. Historically, this has been most effectively done by bringing more workers into unions. Across advanced economies, wage inequality tends to rise as the share of workers who are members of unions declines. A new paper examining detailed, historical data from America makes the point especially well. Henry Farber, Daniel Herbst, Ilyana Kuziemko and Mr Naidu find that the premium earned by union members in America has held remarkably constant during the post-war period. But in the 1950s and 1960s the expansion of unions brought in less-skilled workers, squeezing the wage distribution and shrinking inequality. Unions are not the only way to boost worker power. More radical ideas like a universal basic income—a welfare payment made to everyone regardless of work status—or a jobs guarantee, which extends the right to a government job paying a decent wage to everyone, would shift power to workers and force firms to work harder to retain employees.

Strong bad

Economists are unlikely to cheer such proposals. A broad jobs guarantee would transform society in unpredictable and costly ways. And unions look like monopoly sellers of labour—cartels, intended to leech rents from society as a whole. But the powerful unions of the post-war decades did not stop productivity growing much faster than advanced economies have since managed. And it was during that period that growth in real pay most closely tracked growth in labour productivity, as the simplest economic models reckon it should. More empowered workers would no doubt unnerve bosses. But a world in which pay rises are unimaginable is far scarier.

04 Jun 08:25

How Instagram’s algorithm works

Instagram users were missing 70 percent of all posts and 50 percent of their friends’ posts before the app ditched the reverse chronological feed for an algorithm in July 2016. Despite backlash about confusing ordering, Instagram now says relevancy sorting has led to its 800 million-plus users seeing 90 percent of their friends’ posts and spending more time on the app.

Yet Instagram has never explained exactly how the algorithm chooses what to show you until today. The Facebook-owned company assembled a group of reporters at its under-construction new San Francisco office to take the lid off the Instagram feed ranking algorithm.

Instagram product lead Julian Gutman explains the algorithm

Instagram’s feed ranking criteria

Instagram relies on machine learning based on your past behavior to create a unique feed for everyone. Even if you follow the exact same accounts as someone else, you’ll get a personalized feed based on how you interact with those accounts.

Three main factors determine what you see in your Instagram feed:

  1. Interest: How much Instagram predicts you’ll care about a post, with higher ranking for what matters to you, determined by past behavior on similar content and potentially machine vision analyzing the actual content of the post.
  2. Recency: How recently the post was shared, with prioritization for timely posts over weeks-old ones.
  3. Relationship: How close you are to the person who shared it, with higher ranking for people you’ve interacted with a lot in the past on Instagram, such as by commenting on their posts or being tagged together in photos.

Beyond those core factors, three additional signals that influence rankings are:

  • Frequency: How often you open Instagram, as it will try to show you the best posts since your last visit.
  • Following: If you follow a lot of people, Instagram will be picking from a wider breadth of authors so you might see less of any specific person.
  • Usage: How long you spend on Instagram determines if you’re just seeing the best posts during short sessions, or it’s digging deeper into its catalog if you spend more total time browsing.

Instagram mythbusting

Instagram’s team also responded to many of the most common questions and conspiracy theories about how its feed works. TechCrunch can’t verify the accuracy of these claims, but this is what Instagram’s team told us:

  • Instagram is not at this time considering an option to see the old reverse chronological feed because it doesn’t want to add more complexity (users might forget what feed they’re set to), but it is listening to users who dislike the algorithm.
  • Instagram does not hide posts in the feed, and you’ll see everything posted by everyone you follow if you keep scrolling.
  • Feed ranking does not favor the photo or video format universally, but people’s feeds are tuned based on what kind of content they engage with, so if you never stop to watch videos you might see fewer of them.
  • Instagram’s feed doesn’t favor users who use Stories, Live, or other special features of the app.
  • Instagram doesn’t downrank users for posting too frequently or for other specific behaviors, but it might swap in other content in between someone’s if they rapid-fire separate posts.
  • Instagram doesn’t give extra feed presence to personal accounts or business accounts, so switching won’t help your reach.
  • Shadowbanning is not a real thing, and Instagram says it doesn’t hide people’s content for posting too many hashtags or taking other actions.

Today’s Instagram whiteboard session with reporters, its first, should go a long way to clearing up misunderstandings about how it works. When people feel confident that their posts will reach their favorite people, that they can reliably build a public audience, and that they’ll always see great content, they’ll open the app more often.

Yet on the horizon looms a problem similar to what Facebook’s algorithm experienced around 2015: competition reduces reach. As more users and businesses join Instagram and post more often, but feed browsing time stays stable per user, the average post will get drowned out and receive fewer views. People will inevitably complain that Instagram is trying to force them to buy ads, but it’s a natural and inevitable consequence of increasingly popular algorithmic feeds.

The more Instagram can disarm that problem by pushing excess content creation to Stories and educating users about how the feed operates, the less they’ll complain. Facebook is already uncool, so Instagram must stay in our good graces.

30 May 06:23

Scenes from an abandoned village in the Japanese mountains

by Lee

Finding abandoned buildings outside Tokyo isn’t difficult. Head out into the countryside, or pass through one of Japan’s many faded towns, and there are long-disused structures almost everywhere. Many of them, it has to be said, aren’t the least bit interesting— well, not on the inside, anyway. Invariably filled with junk, or simply stripped bare, they offer little in the way of exploration. Also, a good number of them are understandably sealed shut, so even if they do contain intriguing little time capsules, they remain frustratingly out of reach.

Every now and again, however, it’s possible to stumble upon something very different. Like the abandoned village below. Some of its structures have been demolished. Others have simply collapsed. But those it was possible to enter offer up a fascinating, and at the same time rather sad look at the lives of those who once lived there.

Background wise, there used to be a mine in the area; an enterprise that was presumably the settlement’s biggest employer, and very likely the reason why many people moved there in the first place. Being up in the mountains, forestry work and other rural occupations also helped sustain the settlement. But the closure of the mine in 1980 understandably seems to have been the death knell for the small outpost. An idea further reinforced by calendars in several of the properties displaying that very same year. The demise, however, was a slow and drawn out one, as some people did stay on — for a surprisingly long time too. The most recent sign of habitation being a not at all distant 2012.

Details regarding the actual inhabitants, on the other hand, are far more hazy. For reasons unknown, they left behind a staggering amount of stuff, and yet oddly it tells us more about who they loved and lost, rather than any specifics regarding what they did, or indeed how they lived their lives. Intriguing titbits that hint at a lot, and yet at the same time give very little away. So, with no more facts available, and wild speculation or educated guesswork the only options, here is what we found without any further commentary.

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

photographs from an abandoned Japanese village

24 May 10:47

A Redesigned 1Password 7 for Mac Enhances Watchtower and Adds Flexibility to Vaults, App Login Support, and More

AgileBits has released 1Password 7 for Mac, a significant update that is free to subscribers but also available as a standalone download. I’ve used 1Password since I started using a Mac. The app has always been the best way to store passwords for websites, and for years, that’s primarily how I’ve thought of it.

There’s been more to 1Password than just password storage for a while now though, and what sets this update apart is the depth of those other features and the ease with which they can be incorporated in your everyday computing life. That’s important because it doesn’t take much friction for someone to get lazy about security.

1Password 7 is a comprehensive update that touches every corner of the app. The app will still be familiar to long-time users, but features like Watchtower and Vaults have been extended with new capabilities that are worth exploring if you haven’t in a while. 1Password also works better than ever with app logins. There are dozens of other changes big and small that along with a design refresh that make 1Password 7 an excellent update.

Watchtower

Watchtower started as a service to let users know when they should change a password because it had been compromised. The feature still does that, but with 1Password 7, Watchtower does much more.

You’ll find Watchtower in 1Password’s left-hand sidebar where it lives in a dedicated section. Clicking on Watchtower in the sidebar expands reveals each of its components. Right at the top are ‘Compromised Logins’ and ‘Vulnerable Passwords,’ which securely compare your logins and passwords against the enormous database maintained at haveibeenpwned.com without transmitting your passwords to anyone. If a site has had a data breach that may have compromised a login or password you use, you’ll find it here.

Watchtower also analyzes your database for reused and weak passwords. With 1Password and macOS’s abilities to generate random strong passwords, there’s no reason to use the same passwords on multiple sites or create short crackable passwords. These sections of Watchtower serve as a comprehensive audit of your password past, which simplifies the process of updating to strong, unique passwords if it finds vulnerabilities.

These days there isn’t a good excuse for a website to not be using https for logins, but you may still have logins stored in 1Password from before https became commonplace. Those logins have a separate section in Watchtower, so you can revisit the sites and switch over to secure login pages where available.

Watchtower also analyzes your logins and highlights ones where two-factor authentication (2FA) is available. Using 2FA hasn’t always been easy on some sites, so I’m guilty of having avoided it longer than I should have for some of the websites I visit. 1Password makes updating your logins on those sites easy by identifying them and improves the login process with single-use passcodes that can be generated by 1Password for iOS itself.

Finally, Watchtower proactively analyzes credit cards, passports, and other items in your vaults that have expiration dates, alerting you of the need to update or replace them. Credit cards tend to auto-renew, but this is particularly handy for passports or anything else the requires you to renew them manually.

Vaults

Vaults are how you organize the information stored in 1Password. For example, you may want to set up a separate vault for logins and passwords that you share with someone else or create different 1Password vaults for personal and business data. With 1Password 7, full drag and drop support makes vaults easier to manage.

All of your 1Password vaults are visible in the app’s redesigned sidebar. New vaults can be created by clicking the ‘New Vault’ button, from the File menu, or by dragging an item onto the sidebar button from another vault. Each vault can be named, have a description, and an icon. 1Password has added 38 icons you can choose from, or you can drag in an image of your own. I’m not a big fan of the icons, but it’s just as easy to drag in my images, so it’s not a big deal.

Every item stored in 1Password can be moved between vaults by merely dragging it from one to another. If you’d rather copy something to another vault, hold down the Option key while dragging it just as you would with a file in the Finder.

App Support

1Password 7 has improved the login process for apps too. I switch email and Twitter clients a lot to test different apps, and whenever I do, it required jumping back and forth between the new app and 1Password to log into my accounts. 1Password 7 eases this process by detecting the app you’re using so when you click on the 1Password menu bar app, it’s already suggesting the login credentials to use.1 Copy and paste or drag and drop your username and password into the app’s text fields, and you’re all set. It’s not quite as easy as the ability to autofill and log into a website, but it’s a big improvement nonetheless.

However, one thing I don’t like about the updated menu bar app, which AgileBits calls 1Password mini, is that it’s difficult to know how to resize and move the window at first. There is very little chrome along the top of the window, and what’s there is the same color as the window’s background providing no visual affordance indicating which parts are draggable.

Everything Else

There are many other changes to 1Password 7 the impact of which will depend on how you use the app. However, there are so many small improvements that I expect in aggregate, they will be significant to most users.

The design of 1Password has been refreshed throughout. In addition to the features I’ve already mentioned, the sidebar now sports a dark look that looks fantastic, focuses users on selected items, and fits in well with apps like Slack, which feature a similar three-pane, dark sidebar design. The sidebar can also be collapsed to a narrow strip of icons, which is a welcome addition for users with smaller screens. There are plenty of days when I’m on my 13” MacBook Pro, that tucking away most of the sidebar makes a lot of sense.

Secure notes now support rich text formatting using Markdown syntax too. Markdown text isn’t styled as you edit, but after you click ‘Save,’ the Markdown syntax is replaced by its rich-text equivalent. Password fields also feature a new typeface, which is a variant of one of my favorites: Courier Prime. The new typeface called Courier Prime Bits is designed to make it easy to distinguish between characters like a one, lower case ‘l,’ and a pipe character for those times when you find yourself typing in a password manually.

Another handy feature that’s been added to 1Password is pop-out floating windows. There’s a button in the top right-hand corner of the window (or use Command + O) that takes the content in the rightmost pane and pops it out into a floating window. It’s a nice addition for times when you have information stored in 1Password that you need to refer to frequently while working in another app.

Also worth mentioning among many other changes is that 1Password 7 also adds:

  • Support for nested tags that are created by typing a ‘/‘ between tags as you add them
  • A handy quick open command (Command + K) that works a little like Alfred, allowing you to type a quick search for an item, hit return and jump straight to the entry
  • Spotlight integration
  • Handoff support

Conclusion

Here’s the thing about an app like 1Password: most of the time all you want is to get into and out of the app as quickly as possible. It’s a speed bump on the way to some other work you need to get done but that’s locked behind a password. 1Password has always excelled at slowing you down as little as possible whether you’re using its browser extension, menu bar app, and the main app itself. 1Password 7 goes even farther down the same path than its predecessors with features like making the app login process nearly as seamless as logging into a website, adding nested tagging and quick open features, as well as supporting macOS technologies like Handoff and Spotlight.

However, although those are welcome features, the focus of this update is a little different. Greater vault flexibility and a more robust Watchtower are more about managing your passwords and other information. Both features make it easier than ever to organize your sensitive data and evaluate the safety of the passwords you create. It’s a combination that makes auditing the security of your passwords and managing things like shared passwords easier than ever and worth another look if you haven’t tried that aspect of 1Password in a while.

Security is a more important part of computing than ever before. Still, nothing is more frustrating than doing the right thing by using unique, long, random passwords only to have them slow you down when you need to get something done or finding out that your super-secure password has been compromised by an online service. 1Password 7 combines an ease of use that reduces the friction of using secure passwords with the tools needed to manage them and ensure your logins always remain secure.

1Password 7, which requires macOS Sierra or later, is a free update to subscribers to individual, family, team, and business plans and can be downloaded from the Mac App Store or directly from AgileBits. 1Password 7 is also available for purchase as a standalone license for users who are not subscribers. Because of the difficulty of working around Apple’s lack of upgrade pricing on the Mac App Store, standalone licenses are available only from AgileBits where they are $49.99 per user, per platform for a limited time, after which they will increase to $64.99. The update is also free to anyone who purchased a standalone license after March 27, 2018. 1Password 7 for Windows will be available next week.

24 May 07:45

Släpp de ockulta marknadskrafterna fria

by fthunholm

Abdul Al-Hazred är namnet på den jemenitiske poet som år 731 nedtecknade den ohyggliga och förbjudna boken Necronomicon, efter att ha irrat runt i öknen i tio år. Boken är central i det mytiska universum som författaren H P Lovecrafts skapade. Al-Hazred dog genom att bli levande uppäten, av osynliga väsen, på en marknad i Damaskus. Och när vi ändå pratar om araber, låt oss backa bandet till 2010.

Kommer du ihåg sverigedemokraternas reklamfilm inför valet det året? Den visade en hord av kvinnor i burka, med barnvagnar, som springer ner en stackars strävsam, etniskt svensk, pensionär med rullator. En berättarröst säger att all politik handlar om prioriteringar och du som röstar väljer mellan att dra i pensionsbromsen eller i invandringsbromsen. Kvinnorna var som en lavin, som en flodvåg av bidragsslukande biomassa. Pensionären var skröplig men stolt.

TV4 vägrade sända filmen. Jan Scherman hänvisade som ansvarig utgivare till både demokratiparagrafen i radio- tv-lagen och förbudet mot hets mot folkgrupp i yttrandefrihetsgrundlagen.

I ett mejl till partifolket skriver Jimmie Åkesson om filmen att den” illustrerar vad vi menar att valet (borde) handla om – konflikten mellan välfärd och mångkultur. Precis som vi säger i filmen, handlar all politik om prioriteringar – vi kan inte ge allt till alla och då väljer vi svensk välfärd framför massinvandring.”

Då är vi tillbaka i 2018 igen. Och Åkessons retorik används, nästan ordagrant, av justitieminister Morgan Johansson, när han skryter om att unga i Skåne fått gratis kollektivtrafik – tack vare att sossarna dragit i invandringsbromsen.

Mitt Europa bygger inga murar osv.

Jag hoppas att socialdemokratin, vad fan den ens är för något idag, gör exakt samma karriär som Abdul Al-Hazred. Att den först spenderar tio år i Roba El Khaliyeh-öknen, omgiven av tjutande demoner. Och sedan förtärs, av osynliga monster, om inte på en marknad i Damaskus, så kanske Kiviks marknad.

Eller bostadsmarknaden.

21 May 11:07

Östermalms eget Guantanamo

by fthunholm

DN skriver i en rubrik att ”I co-living kollektivet K9 på Östermalm i Stockholm bor 52 vuxna”. Därefter följer en artikel som provocerar mig så till den grad att jag kommer på mig själv med att leta efter en gaffel att hugga i min mjälte. Tack och lov sitter jag inte i köket så jag hittar ingen gaffel. Men jag blir skrämd av min reaktion och jag undrar varför jag reagerar som jag gör.

Kanske är det för att femtiotvå vuxna människor i ett co-living community lajvar alternativt boende och till exempel hyr poddar om fem kvadrat för 6 500 kr i månaden. Kanske är det mitt fördomsfulla antagande att alla femtiotvå kan ringa sin farsa och lösa ett eget boende vilken dag som helst i veckan.

Och visst, exakt den där sortens anglifierade jag-jobbar-på-google-lingo är ju något för Haag-tribunalen att ta tag i. Jag vill bara ta folk som pratar så och släpa ut dem i skogen, ställa dem framför ett träd, och ropa åt dem att visa trädet lite jävla RESPEKT.

Men – så hittar jag exakt vad det är som provocerar.

En av de boende säger att ”i hippiekollektiven var man beroende av varandra för lägre hyra och att laga mat ihop. Man ville vara del av en grupp för att man inte hade en egen identitet. Här är alla individualister men väljer att vara del av en grupp för att det ger mer än bara självförverkligande, en känsla av gemenskap”.

Och det är inte det att personen saknar koll, men ändå sågar grupper av människor, som alla med stor säkerhet hade mer vitala personligheter än subjektet i fråga. Nej, det är det sista ledet. Det om att gemenskap är något utöver självförverkligande.

I Maslows behovstrappa är gemenskap på trappsteg tre av fem och självförverkligandet högst upp. Men för boende co-living kollektiveti K9 på Östermalm i Stockholm är självförverkligandet något banalt och självklart. Det är som att andas, ungefär.

Detta är människor som förhåller sig till jantelagen, som gryningspyromanen förhåller sig till brandskydd.

De bor ihop för att de är så otroliga, unika personligheter. För att samhället utanför inte kan hantera hur sköna de är. De kallar det co-living kollektiv, men det är mer som ett fängelse. Ett fängelse för samvetsfångar. Ett Guantanamo för digital natives som gillar networking och städhjälp.

Skjut mig.

21 May 08:43

This Is Not a Review of Lars Von Trier's Repulsive 'The House That Jack Built'

the-house-that-jack-built-review.png

By Caspar Salmon | Film | May 16, 2018 |

By Caspar Salmon | Film | May 16, 2018 |

the-house-that-jack-built-review.png

This is not a review. I left The House That Jack Built after 100 minutes, at a moment when the central character began to cut off the tits of a woman he called ‘Simple’, having previously drawn incision lines around her breasts with a marker he made her get for him and then psychologically tortured her. The moment I left was when I turned my face away from the sight of the breast being cut off, but could still hear the amped-up sound of a blade sawing into flesh and the screams of a woman - and, in turning away, met the eyes of the woman sitting next to me, who was also averting her eyes from the violence onscreen; and, having cowered with her for two seconds, I decided to leave before I was put through more funny games.

This is not a review. I did not see the whole final act of The House That Jack built, and so will not discuss Lars Von Trier’s use of sets or his direction of actors. I will not critique his cinematography. I will not dissect his dialogue in the opening scene, and the ways it helps to establish character and plot.

This is not a review. When I left The House That Jack Built, it was because I could no longer remember why I was doing this anymore. I could suddenly not recall why films did this; I could not remember why the torture, abuse and murder of women was a subject matter, to be assessed by me after being made to endure it. Being in Cannes for the film festival shows you that you can pick anything for the subject of your film — anything at all — so it does bear asking why Von Trier has chosen to depict, say, a woman made to witness the brutal death of her children, and then be shot herself, in the face, in unsparing close-up. Filmmaking — and indeed all art — involves a contract between the creator and the beholder: the creator makes an offer, which the beholder, by watching, accepts. Harold Pinter and Michael Haneke have written plays and films which hinge on this agreement, far better than Von Trier: works that call into question the moral acquiescence of the audience, the collaboration of the spectator in the barbarity depicted onscreen. Von Trier blithely, or perhaps stupidly, asks us to accept the very terms of his film, and to judge the movie on what he has set out to do — namely, to accept that the violence depicted here, the torture and abuse, can be a parable for Von Trier’s own abusive behaviour towards women, and the way his films have enacted, again and again, the suffering of women. But I do not have to accept those terms; we do not have to collaborate with Von Trier in deeming this a subject. And, incidentally, the abuse of women is a poor metaphor for the abuse of women.

This is not a review, but a genuine attempt to understand how violence has been so normalized, how we can have become so blasé about terror and aggression. I’m writing because when I recoil from brutality, when I flinch from people being dragged screaming across floors or beaten in the face, I am in the minority, and my friends and colleagues are not tormented, but in fact are surprised by my feebleness and may even rejoice in the bloodsport, in the game-playing. This is not a plea for bowdlerized films, or films that reject power dynamics and violence, that hide from politics; we live in a world of violence, and movies must also reflect this, and can use shock to alarm and subvert and of course delight. I understand the visceral kick that film offers when it sports around with death. But I am still early in my filmgoing career and already sick of heartless men playing loveless games; of the way, for men who have never been at risk of attack, who have no reason to fear the world, the violence on this planet can be simply another playground to have fun in.

In Jackie Brown, there’s a scene where Robert De Niro’s character shoots Bridget Fonda’s character dead because he is so frustrated with her and wants to shut her up. I think of this scene when I see films sometimes, because I aim to consider the artistic merit of films, and I believe it is artistically less good to kill your character than to let her speak.

I don’t want to watch any more films in which all the female characters are killed.

Imagine you’re looking at a blank page, which is the beginning of your screenplay, the beginning of everybody’s screenplay. You can write anything here, whatever you want. You roll your sleeves up, give a Carrie Bradshaw look into the middle distance, which is where you find all your best ideas, and begin writing. Your film, which is to be staged by a crew, voiced by actors and recorded on film for the purposes of being seen in the world: what will it be? You can write a film that requires the dead bodies of women to be arranged in comical poses, as an arch metaphor for your own tyranny — or you can write something else. You choose.

Follow Caspar Salmon on Twitter.


Review: Anton Chekhov's 'The Seagull,' With Annette Bening, Elisabeth Moss, Saoirse Ronan, and Corey Stoll | Canadian Doctor Shot by Israeli Sniper Shows Up in Comments to Prove Story's Credibility




18 May 12:10

Old memories, accidentally trapped in amber by our digital devices

by Jason Kottke

Part of what humans use technology for is to better remember the past. We scroll back through photos on our phones and on Instagram & Flickr — “that was Fourth of July 5 years ago, so fun!” — and apps like Swarm, Timehop, and Facebook surface old locations, photos, and tweets for us on the regular. But sometimes, we run into the good old days in unexpected places on our digital devices.

Designer and typographer Marcin Wichary started a thread on Twitter yesterday about “UIs that accidentally amass memories” with the initial example of the “Preferred Networks” listing of all the wifi networks his computer had ever joined, “unexpected reminders of business trips, vacations, accidental detours, once frequented and now closed cafés”.

Digital Memories

Several other people chimed in with their own examples…the Bluetooth pairings list, the Reminders app, the list of alarms, saved places in mapping apps, AIM/iChat status message log, chat apps not used for years, the Gmail drafts folder, etc.

John Bull noted that his list of former addresses on Amazon is “a massive walk down memory line of my old jobs and places of residence”. I just looked at mine and I’ve got addresses in there from almost 20 years ago.

Steven Richie suggested the Weather app on iOS:

I usually like to add the city I will be travelling to ahead of time to get a sense of what it will be like when we get there.

I do this too but am pretty good about culling my cities list. Still, there are a couple places I keep around even though I haven’t been to them in awhile…a self-nudge for future travel desires perhaps.

Kotori switched back to an old OS via a years-old backup and found “a post-breakup message that came on the day i switched phones”:

thought i moved on but so many whatifs flashed in my head when i read it. what if i never got a new phone. what if they messaged me a few minutes earlier. what if we used a chat that did backups differently

Similarly, Richard fired up Google Maps on an old phone and was briefly transported through time and space:

On a similar note to both of these, a while ago I switched back to my old Nokia N95 after my iPhone died. Fired up Google Maps, and for a brief moment, it marked my location as at a remote crossroads in NZ where I’d last had it open, lost on a road trip at least a decade before.

Matt Sephton runs into old friends when he plays Nintendo:

Every time my friends and I play Nintendo WiiU/Wii/3DS games we see a lot of our old Mii avatars. Some are 10 years old and of a time. Amongst them is a friend who passed away a few years back. It’s always so good to see him. It’s as if he’s still playing the games with us.

For better or worse, machines never forget those who aren’t with us anymore. Dan Noyes’ Gmail holds a reminder of his late wife:

Whenever I open Gmail I see the last message that my late wife sent me via Google chat in 2014. It’s her standard “pssst” greeting for me: “aye aye”. I leave it unread lest it disappears.

It’s a wonderful thread…read the whole thing.

I encounter these nostalgia bombs every once in awhile too. I closed dozens of tabs the other day on Chrome for iOS; I don’t use it very often, so some of them dated back to more than a year ago. I have bookmarks on browsers I no longer use on my iMac that are more than 10 years old. A MacOS folder I dump temporary images & files into has stuff going back years. Everyone I know stopped using apps like Path and Peach, so when I open them, I see messages from years ago right at the top like they were just posted, trapped in amber.

My personal go-to cache of unexpected memories is Messages on iOS. Scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the list, I can find messages from numbers I haven’t communicated with since a month or two after I got my first iPhone in 2007.

Digital Memories

There and elsewhere in the listing are friends I’m no longer in touch with, business lunches that went nowhere, old flames, messages from people I don’t even remember, arriving Lyfts in unknown cities, old landlords, completely contextless messages from old numbers (“I am so drunk!!!!” from a friend’s wife I didn’t know that well?!), old babysitters, a bunch of messages from friends texting to be let into our building for a holiday party, playdate arrangements w/ the parents of my kids’ long-forgotten friends (which Ella was that?!), and old group texts with current friends left to languish for years. From one of these group texts, I was just reminded that my 3-year-old daughter liked to make cocktails:

Digital Memories

Just like Sally Draper! Speaking of Mad Men, Don’s correct: nostalgia is a potent thing, so I’ve got to stop poking around my phone and get back to work.

Update: I had forgotten this great example about a ghost driver in an old Xbox racing game.

Well, when i was 4, my dad bought a trusty XBox. you know, the first, ruggedy, blocky one from 2001. we had tons and tons and tons of fun playing all kinds of games together — until he died, when i was just 6.

i couldnt touch that console for 10 years.

but once i did, i noticed something.

we used to play a racing game, Rally Sports Challenge. actually pretty awesome for the time it came.

and once i started meddling around… i found a GHOST.

See also this story about Animal Crossing. (via @ironicsans/status/996445080943808512)

Tags: Marcin Wichary
17 May 11:08

★ The End of Third-Party Twitter Clients?

by John Gruber

“Apps of a Feather” — a joint statement from the developers of several top third-party Twitter clients:

After August 16th, 2018, “streaming services” at Twitter will be removed. This means two things for third-party apps:

  1. Push notifications will no longer arrive
  2. Timelines won’t refresh automatically

If you use an app like Talon, Tweetbot, Tweetings, or Twitterrific, there is no way for its developer to fix these issues.

We are incredibly eager to update our apps. However, despite many requests for clarification and guidance, Twitter has not provided a way for us to recreate the lost functionality. We’ve been waiting for more than a year and have had one reprieve.

This antipathy to third-party clients is especially confounding considering that Twitter recently dropped support for their own native Mac client. As far as I’m aware, once this comes to pass next month, there will be no way to receive notifications of Twitter DMs on a Mac. None. (Twitter’s website doesn’t even support Safari’s desktop notification feature.) That’s just wacky.

Twitter management obviously wants to steer people to their first-party mobile app and desktop website. I get that. But they already have that: the overwhelming number of Twitter users use exactly those products to access the service. What Twitter management seems to be missing is that many of its most influential users — including yours truly, yes — have been on the platform a long time and have a high tendency to be among those who not just use, but depend upon third-party clients.

To me this is like finding out you’re now required to access email entirely through a web browser. Sure, lots of people already do it that way and either prefer it or think it’s eh, just fine, who cares — but a lot of others hate it and find it completely disruptive to longstanding workflows.

Twitter isn’t explicitly saying that they’re shutting down third-party clients, but I don’t know that it’s feasible for them to exist if they don’t have access to these APIs. It’s like breaking up with someone by being a jerk to them rather than telling them you’re breaking up.

I urge Twitter to reconsider this decision. Third-party clients account for a relatively small part of the Twitter ecosystem, but it’s an important one. Twitter may not care about a native Mac client, but the users of these apps, and the developers who make them, certainly do.

03 May 12:50

Fredrik Strage: Rockys snöpliga sorti påminner om sista ”The Sopranos”

Förra veckan meddelade Martin Kellerman att han lägger ner sin självbiografiska serie ”Rocky” efter 20 år. Han vet inte vad han ska göra i stället. Kanske ska han börja virka. ”Jag kan drömma om att en dag slappna av och bara virka”, säger han i sin sista intervju, gjord på det södermanländska torp dit han flytt undan alla krav (DN 29/4).

 Vi som lusläst ”Rocky” vet att han bodde på en fårfarm som liten och kan en hel del om virkande (eller som han en gång rappade i en serie om ull: ”Don't you step to me talking about garn, niXXa. What you know about that? I know all about that.”). Han har varit nere med hemslöjd sedan dag ett.

Här är sista strippen med Rocky 

Det finns ingen författare, död eller levande, som jag citerar lika ofta som Martin Kellerman. När någon frågar vad som går på på bio svarar jag: ”En slovensk road movie om en totalförlamad dvärg som blir kär i sin spinninginstruktör.” När folk flyttar ihop kan jag inte låta bli att säga: ”Du hade blivit kär i Yassir Arafat om han hade en tvåa på Odenplan.” Och jag kan inte äta kräftor utan att tänka på att ”vad man än slänger för vidrig skit från fisk eller skaldjur så är det alltid en göteborgare som tycker att det är det göttaste”.

Läs mer: Martin Kellerman: ”Jag vill tänka ut något nytt att bygga 

Enligt DN-intervjun slutar Martin Kellerman delvis eftersom serien blivit mindre lönsam. Men 2005 sa Rocky att han ”förmodligen tjänar fyra gånger mer än en bankdirektör”. Med andra ord lär han fortfarande vara stenrik jämfört med andra svenska serietecknare, en yrkesgrupp som måste donera blod för att ha råd att handla på Lidl. Det händer att läsare dyker upp i serien och klagar på att den var roligare i slutet av nittiotalet. ”Skriv mer om när du var arbetslös och bodde på en vind”, sa en av dem. Men faktum är att skämten i Rocky snarare peakade när han lyxade till det med vindsvåning, stadsjeep och ett oändligt globetrottande. Om jag någon gång får flyga business class ska jag också utbrista: ”Ur vägen, simpla pöbel.”

 ”Man måste ta en dag i taget”, är det sista Rocky säger i den sista seriestrippen, där han ligger på gräsmattan utanför sitt torp. Det är en snöplig sorti, inte olik sista avsnittet av ”The Sopranos” som också klippte av historien utan att avsluta den. Jag vill veta hur det gick för alla i serien: papegojan Mange, partygrodan Smacks, rådjuret Edith, tigern Tommy, råttan Klasse, katten Maja.

Läs mer: Efter 20 år: Martin Kellerman lägger ner Rocky 

Den senare blev min Rocky-favorit när hon, som var receptionist, lurade i folk på Berns att hon var delfinskötare, Säpo-agent och popstjärna i Japan. Hon spred odödliga livsvisdomar: ”Man vet att man inte är redo för barn när man tror att man är gravid och tänker att man ska sluta festa men så kommer man på att det är Dieselfest och så tänker man äh vad fan.”

Den alltmer introverta stämningen i serien (för ett par månader sedan handlade en stripp helt och hållet om att Rocky lyssnade på golvplankornas knirrande och knarrande) tyder på att Martin Kellerman behöver semester. Jag kan till och med acceptera ett karriärbyte om Filminstitutet lyckas få honom att skriva alla svenska filmmanus. Men att tvåtusentalets främsta dialogförfattare bara skulle sitta och virka känns som slöseri.

 Den nu 44-årige hunden konstaterade en gång att han ärvt bra gener från sin farmor: ”Hon har blivit rånad i Bryssel, släpats efter tunnelbanan i Stockholm. Hon är som Steven Seagal, min farmor. Hard to kill!” Om Rocky lever lika länge som henne har han 54 år kvar. Han borde inte tillbringa den tiden i ett torp, utan vara ute bland människor och skildra dem som bara han kan.

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26 Apr 07:55

Incel, the misogynist ideology that inspired the deadly Toronto attack, explained

by Zack Beauchamp
Toronto attack: the scene of the crime.

Alek Minassian, the man who killed 10 people by driving a van down a busy street in Toronto on Monday, is a terrorist.

We know this because he told us so. On Tuesday afternoon, Facebook confirmed the authenticity of a post in his name, in which he pledged allegiance to something called the “Incel Rebellion.” This is not an organized militant group but rather an ideal developed by the so-called “incel” movement — an online community of men united by their inability to convince women to have sex with them. (“Incel” stands for “involuntarily celibate.”)

Some self-identified incels, as they call themselves, have developed an elaborate socio-political explanation for their sexual failures, one that centers on the idea that women are shallow, vicious, and only attracted to hyper-muscular men. They see this as a profound injustice against men like them, who suffer an inherent genetic disadvantage through no fault of their own. A small radical fringe believes that violence, especially against women, is an appropriate response — that an “Incel Rebellion” or “Beta [Male] Uprising” will eventually overturn the sexual status quo.

Minassian is not the first to turn these violent fantasies into reality. In 2014, a sexually frustrated man named Elliot Rodger killed six and wounded 14 in a shooting spree in Santa Barbara, California. He justified his actions in a lengthy and creepy manifesto sent to acquaintances and then widely shared online as retaliation against women as a group for refusing to provide him with the sex he is owed. This man has become a hero to many incels; the Toronto perpetrator praised him as the “Supreme Gentleman” (a term the California shooter coined for himself) in his Facebook post.

Only a tiny percentage of incels seem willing to turn to violence or terrorism and the movement isn’t a threat on the level of an al-Qaeda or ISIS. But it’s a new kind of danger, a testament to the power of online communities to radicalize frustrated young men based on their most personal and painful grievances.

The Facebook post “situates the attack as extremist and terrorist,” says J.M. Berger, an expert at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in the Hague. “Misogyny isn’t new, and ideological misogyny isn’t new. Having a distinct movement that is primarily defined by misogyny is [fairly] novel.”

Incel, explained

When we talk about “incels,” we are not talking about all men who are not having sex. Instead, we are talking about a specific subculture of people in various internet forums — subreddits like r/braincels, the cruel troll chat forum 4Chan, and dedicated websites like incels.me.

Beyond their shared frustration with not having sex, the incel community is not monolithic. Many of them are simply sad and lonely men, suffering from extreme social anxiety or deep depression. Some of these moderate incels actively police the extremists in their midst; in a sympathetic 2015 profile, the Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey reported that some incel forums were set up to automatically delete any posts referencing the California shooter.

But many incels have a much more sinister, and specific, worldview — one that the Southern Poverty Law Center sees as part of a dangerous trend toward male radicalization online. These incels post obsessively about so-called “Chads,” meaning sexually successful and attractive men, and “Stacys,” attractive promiscuous women who sleep with the Chads. Both are positioned as unattainable: The Chad is the masculine ideal, one incel men cannot emulate for reasons of poor genetics, while the Stacy is who every incel man wants to sleep with but cannot because they aren’t a Chad.

It’s this embrace of helplessness, of their certainty of their own sexual doom, that makes the more extreme incel communities so dangerous. Instead of trying to support each other and work through their issues as a group, the incels in certain communities allow their resentments to curdle. They see the world through the lens of entitlement; they are owed sex but cannot have it because women are shallow. This manifests in a deep and profound hatred for women as a group, which shows up on a very brief scan of some of the more extreme incel communities.

“I have sluts for managers,” one poster on the incel.me forum wrote. “Flat bitch with no ass and loud ugly black landwhale somehow with no ass either ... both brag about all the dick they suck.”

But it’s not just individual women that these radical incels hate: It’s society writ large, a society that allows their perceived sexual oppression to go on. The sexual revolution, in particular, comes in for hate: They believe women being freed to make their own sexual choices, rather than being married off to men and made subordinate, is the reason women can choose to sleep with attractive men and ignore the so-called incels.

This is how inceldom becomes a political doctrine: They see themselves as a class, oppressed by a social system that’s rigged in favor of other men. One post on an incel subreddit compared their worldview to Marxism, with incels playing the part of the proletariat and Chad the bourgeoisie. The natural corollary of this idea is clear: If the root of the problem is an unfair social system then there needs to be a revolution to change it.

This is where the idea of the “Incel Rebellion” that Minassian referenced comes from — sometimes called “Beta Uprising” on incel forums, a reference to beta males. There’s no centralized planning, no incel equivalent to of Osama bin Laden. There are just men on various online forums celebrating violence and forming a mutually supportive echo chamber that justifies harming others, especially women, in the name of the incel uprising.

“I do not blame Alek Minassian for what he did,” another poster on Incel.me writes. “I blame society for treating low status men like garbage. There will always be more rampages because of the way society treats us.”

Some of the reactions to the Toronto attack have been even more extreme. David Futrelle, a journalist who follows the incel movement on his site We Hunted The Mammoth, took screenshots of some of the most extreme pro-Minassian posts, in which posters call for more ERs (attacks like Elliot Rodger’s in California). Here’s one of the worst ones (highlights by Futrelle):

 David Futrelle

This is the stuff of terrorist incitement and recruitment. The appeal to male frustration in these communities is, as my colleague Aja Romano has written, serving as a kind of gateway. Men log on to complain about their loneliness and dating failures and end up getting sucked into a community that encourages them to blame women and society for their problems. And eventually, some of them decide to do something about it.

This is a terrorist movement. What can be done about it?

Alek Minassian, toronto

Terrorism is a notoriously difficult concept to define but the most widely accepted definition among scholars is that terrorism is a form of violence directed against civilians by a nonstate actor with the goal of achieving some kind of political end. By that standard, there is no doubt that the Toronto attack fits the bill. The perpetrator in Toronto wasn’t taking revenge on a specific woman who wronged him; he wanted to instill terror in society writ large as a means of furthering the incel rebellion against the sexual status quo.

“Morally, it is important to recognize such acts as terrorism,” Stephanie Carvin, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, tells me.

This is not a familiar type of terrorism. The groups we hear about the most tend to have more understandable political goals, like installing an Islamist regime or winning the right for their region to secede from a country. The incel rebellion has a much more amorphous end point; there’s no worked out vision for what success looks like, nor is there a chief ideologue working to come up with one. You just have a bunch of random internet forum posters pushing each other towards violence.

While extremist groups are quite commonly misogynistic and even recruit based on male sexual frustration, their ideologies almost never center on that fact. There have been mass acts of misogynistic violence before, as in 1989 shooting at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique that claimed the lives of 14 women, but there wasn’t a large online community providing an ideology that justifies the killer’s grievances. The incel turn toward violence is a unique phenomenon, at least in the modern era.

This creates a fairly difficult challenge for law enforcement agencies. On the one hand, there is a real terrorist threat from incel communities; it’s clearly not all talk. On the other hand, there are serious risks that come along with having American and Canadian law enforcement officials trawling Reddit for people to arrest.

“I’m not sure national security agencies are best placed to handle places like 4Chan,” Carvin says. “We want to keep the law narrow enough that we aren’t monitoring all different kinds of dissent.”

There’s also a serious identification challenge. Online communities are both full of empty talk and draped in irony, making it tough for social media companies and law enforcement officials to figure out who is a threat and who isn’t.

“[The perpetrator’s] post really highlights the challenges facing the social media companies. It read like a joke or nonsense,” Berger, the terrorism expert, tells me. “How are you supposed to evaluate something like that?”

Does this mean we should just throw up our hands and say that the radicalization of some young men toward violent misogyny is inevitable? No, of course not. Carvin suggests that social outreach programs, focusing on countering the sense of isolation that draws young men to these communities in the first place, might be a better idea than standing up a potential counter-incel task force at the FBI. (No such group is currently known to exist.)

But regardless of what the right solution is, we need to be clear-eyed about the type of challenge we’re facing. The internet makes it easier than ever for sad and angry people to find each other and develop communities with weird and dangerous ideologies. What we’re seeing right now is one of society’s oldest hatreds, misogyny, being reworked in real time to fit a specific group of men’s rage and pain.

And 10 people in Toronto just died as a result.

25 Apr 13:32

My teen years were spent in radical right-wing groups. The paranoia was intoxicating.

by Daniel Southwell

It’s hard to recognize myself when I look back at that time of my life.

We called ourselves “the Constitution Defenders” and we wore anything that looked military: camouflage, civil war uniforms, tricorn hats. There were about a dozen of us, teenagers and even younger, and we met on Sundays after church and prepared ourselves for battle.

We lined up in the upper room of our church and saluted the Confederate flag, even though we were in a small town in Michigan. Then I stepped forward to make a speech, wearing hunting camo over a Confederate flag T-shirt. I was 13. When I was done, we pulled out our knives — K-Bars, Bushmans, Bowies — and practiced techniques from a manual.

We practiced like that every week until, when I was 14, a boy got stabbed with a sword. The blade sunk an inch and a half into his thigh, but his parents didn’t take him to the hospital; they were too suspicious of medical institutions and the risk of social services. The wound eventually healed after a mild infection.

It’s been a long time since I thought about militias. It’s been years since I’ve shot a gun, and I’ll be honest, I don’t really miss it. Politically, I’m generally progressive.

But in the Trump era, militias are making headlines again, and memories are flooding back with them. My family homeschooled, all our friends homeschooled, we all prioritized self-sufficiency. We lived in fear of a few looming specters: the Clintons, social services, martial law, gun control. We were taught that the liberal government was out to get our liberties and our faith.

One time at the library, a man approached my mom and asked if we were homeschoolers. I started gathering my little sisters, thinking he was from social services and we needed to make a run for it. He turned out to be a curriculum salesman.

These were the kind of fears we lived in, and we weren’t alone. In the ’90s, the Michigan Militia claimed 12,000 members and inspired militias throughout the country. Men in self-designed fatigues testified before the Senate and said the government needed a spanking. Gun sales skyrocketed, and so did the sales of pocket constitutions.

When I sat down to write this piece about my experiences, I started by pointing to all the obvious historical catalysts that set the movement in motion, the civilians killed by government agents at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas, and when Bill Clinton signed the Brady Bill into law, expanding gun control in the US. These are the common militia talking points, but I realized it’s easier for me to recite them than to process the actual state of mind that once made me want to take up arms against the government.

Small towns like the one I grew up in are built on an economy of face-to-face trust. You see the same people every day, whether you’re going to work, pumping gas, or buying groceries. When you don’t ride the subway, when you’ve never worked in a company too big to meet the owner, you don’t learn to trust people you don’t personally know.

There’s something lovely and human about this “look a person in the eye and shake their hand” ecosystem, but it also contributes to small communities’ suspicion of the government — that faceless, unknowable entity. And it has a darker side. It primes a large chunk of America to distrust their elected officials, and it enables them to believe the worst about people of different races and religions they rarely actually encounter, whose humanity and struggles they never get the opportunity to see in real life.

It seems unbelievable now. But when you think that your president killed Vincent Foster, when you think that God instilled in you a duty to own guns and that the government is slowly eroding that right so that it can impose martial law, you start to lead a pretty suspicious life.

Meeting the leader of Michigan’s viral militia movement

Our family had half-a-dozen guns, far from an unusual number for a rural family. Our designated home-defense weapon was a consistently loaded Mossberg 20-gauge, and I knew from an early age that it was my job to use it if something went down when Dad wasn’t home. We openly discussed home intruder scenarios with the whole family, but the details of government-standoff strategies were just between me and Dad, like when to aim for the head because an agent might be wearing body armor.

I was 11 when Dad and I drove an hour north to the home and gunshop of Norman Olson, a retired Air Force officer, Baptist pastor, and controversial founder of the Michigan Militia. Instead of maintaining secrecy and seclusion, he welcomed the local news to training sessions. He wore his fatigues constantly. He went to an amusement park with Michael Moore on his show TV Nation. He organized the Michigan Militia in county-based brigades that he led from his headquarters, which was also a church that he ran, in Alanson, Michigan.

The militia movement was always decentralized. That’s how they wanted it, a movement driven by the people. But if there was one person who inspired and modeled for the militia activity in the ’90s, it was Norm.

Dad and I went to interview Norm, calling it homeschool “civics class.” Norm kept having to run out to the gunshop to help customers, so he set out stacks of books about Ruby Ridge and guerilla warfare tactics for us to look at. We briefly met his wife, who referred to Norm as “the commander.”

Norm seemed intelligent as he talked about issues like 9/11 (it wasn’t necessarily an inside job, but Bush definitely knew it was going to happen and didn’t stop it), the Oklahoma City bombing (probably orchestrated by the government to discredit the militia), and the Bush-Gore election contest (Norm had hoped Gore would win, because he might have been totalitarian enough to spark an actual revolution).

His rhetoric was conspiratorial but contained insights into real problems with the American system; Norm argued that white liberals contributed to racial poverty, and cited the Black Panthers as an inspiration for his movement. He was frightened by the militarization of local police and the increasing government surveillance that new technology made possible.

When we left I was excited. I had a Michigan Militia Wolverines patch signed by Norm Olson. I felt important. I felt that I could be part of returning America to what it was supposed to be.

Over the next few years, as I entered my teens, I was prepared to do just that.

I thought about the Second Amendment and states’ rights and revolution constantly. I imagined fighting in a revolution against the government. I envisioned standoffs in our house, in our woods, in our barn. I prepared for those situations, planning and practicing marksmanship faithfully.

The Michigan Militia never engaged in the government standoff they were prepping for. Some local groups did gather though: In 1994, three young men in Fowlerville, Michigan, were stopped by a police officer who discovered their car was full of weapons, including an AK-47 and more than 700 rounds of ammo. They also had a notebook that indicated they’d been monitoring police officers’ movements. The three men skipped bail, but 40 armed militiamen showed up at court in their place, publicly threatening to kill any police officer who tried to take away their guns.

If I had been called to join a standoff at that time, I probably would have taken my guns and gone.

Running the boys militia

Three years after interviewing Norm, I joined my first militia, the group of homeschooled teens that eventually ended in an accidental stabbing. I was 13, and my family joined a church of homeschooling families. After each service, while our mothers made lunch, boys as young as 10 trouped upstairs for militia meetings.

I ran to be militia commander in their next election, making speeches standing on a pew all about how I would turn the group into a legitimate militia that could protect our families. I appointed lieutenants and hold competitions for fitness, tactical knowledge, and marksmanship. We started bringing knives, guns, and tactical books to church.

Most of the adults in the church encouraged us. An older man sat me and my second-in-command down and warned us to prepare for the race war that was brewing in America, adding that black-on-white crime was criminally underreported by the liberal media. He also suggested that we might consider targeting abortion doctors, if we ever went beyond training exercises.

But after the stabbing incident spooked a bunch of our parents, they started pulling their kids out the group. After winning a few elections, I lost to a boy whose older brothers were in the real army.

Norm Olson had also lost an election. His new theory that the Japanese were responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing was too much for the rest of the militia, and he was replaced by a “moderate” from southern Michigan.

In Montana, a group called the Freemen defied the FBI and another standoff ensued. But the government seemed to have learned something. Nobody died. They just waited the Freemen out.

Norm showed up at the site of the standoff, as he had promised to show up anywhere people were resisting the government, but he found his services weren’t wanted, and spent most of his time sitting in a nearby diner.

Not long after that, he moved to Alaska, which he said was the last independent-thinking state left. Norm’s time in the spotlight was over.

Growing up and growing out

It’s hard to connect the dots between where I was then and where I am now, working in marketing in southern Pennsylvania and raising two hopefully non-violent sons. I didn’t wake up and have any sudden liberal epiphanies. Maturity comes slowly, but the ability to break your intoxicating addiction to paranoia comes with it.

By the time I was in my mid-teens, I was thinking more about changing the establishment from within. I decided I wanted to be a Supreme Court justice, instead of a revolutionary. I was still obsessed with politics and what I saw as an ever-encroaching government.

I went to college, moved around the country, met different types of people, and read a lot of books. At some point, I forgot to be afraid all the time. Over the years my paradigm shifted from actual war to culture war, then to wondering why there has to be a war at all. My days as an angry, armed young man faded into the past.

Sometimes I miss the simple certainty I felt back then, but it’s hard not to cringe when I remember the way I thought about people who thought and believed and even looked different from me. It’s easy to think of that as a different lifetime, a different world. But deep down, I know that kid wearing his Confederate shirt and sharpening his Bowie knife isn’t a separate person from who I am now. I think I distance myself from that version of myself so I don’t have to cope with knowing that that person was me.

I could chalk it up to immaturity — I was just a kid. But there are adults who do that stuff, men much older than I am now. So I believe we have to think long and hard about what makes people so scared and angry.

You can draw a line from the scared right-wingers of the ’90s to the scared right-wingers of Trump’s America, but it’s not a straight line. One thing has stayed the same: the insider information. The militia information mill used to run on scanned pamphlets, homemade comb-tooth books, and conservative talk radio. Now it runs on YouTube, Facebook, and, still, conservative talk radio. The message is the same: You can’t trust the media. You can’t trust the government. Only we understand what’s really going on.

And people are dangerous when they believe — like I did — that everyone else is either deceived or evil.

Daniel Southwell has worked as a farmhand, roofer, roughneck, roustabout, surveyor, promotional video producer, and freelance writer. He currently lives in eastern Pennsylvania with his wife and two sons.


First Person is Vox’s home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines, and pitch us at firstperson@vox.com.

25 Apr 10:54

The alt-right is drunk on bad readings of Nietzsche. The Nazis were too.

by Sean Illing

The alt-right is obsessed with the 19th-century German philosopher. They don’t understand him.

“You could say I was red-pilled by Nietzsche.”

That’s how white nationalist leader Richard Spencer described his intellectual awakening to the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood last June. “Red-pilled” is a common alt-right term for that “eureka moment” one experiences upon confrontation with some dark and previously buried truth.

For Spencer and other alt-right enthusiasts of the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, that dark truth goes something like this: All the modern pieties about race, peace, equality, justice, civility, universal suffrage — that’s all bullshit. These are constructs cooked up by human beings and later enshrined as eternal truths.

Nietzsche says the world is in constant flux, that there is no capital-T truth. He hated moral and social conventions because he thought they stifled the individual. In one of his most famous essays, The Genealogy of Morality, which Spencer credits with inspiring his awakening, Nietzsche tears down the intellectual justifications for Christian morality. He calls it a “slave morality” developed by peasants to subdue the strong. The experience of reading this was “shattering,” Spencer told Wood. It upended his “moral universe.”

There is, of course, much more to Nietzsche than this. As someone silly enough to have written a dissertation on Nietzsche, I’ve encountered many Spencer-like reactions to his thought. And I’m not surprised that the old German philosopher has become a lodestar for the burgeoning alt-right movement. There is something punk rock about his philosophy. You read it for the first time and you think, “Holy shit, how was I so blind for so long?!”

But if you read Nietzsche like a college freshman cramming for a midterm, you’re bound to misinterpret him — or at least to project your own prejudices into his work. When that happens, we get “bad Nietzsche,” as the Week’s Scott Galupo recently put it.

And it would appear that “bad Nietzsche” is back, and he looks a lot like he did in the early 20th century when his ideas were unjustly appropriated by the (original) Nazis. So now’s a good time to reengage with Nietzsche’s ideas and explain what the alt-right gets right and wrong about their favorite philosopher.

Alt Right Figure Richard Spencer Holds News Conference In Washington, D.C. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
White nationalist Richard Spencer speaks to select media in his office space on August 14, 2017, in Alexandria, Virginia.

The obsession with decline

In her recent book about the rise of the alt-right, Irish academic Angela Nagle discusses their obsession with civilizational decay. “They’re disgusted by what they consider a degenerate culture,” she told me in a recent interview.

Nietzsche made these same arguments more than 100 years ago. The story he tells in The Genealogy of Morality is that Christianity overturned classical Roman values like strength, will, and nobility of spirit. These were replaced with egalitarianism, community, humility, charity, and pity. Nietzsche saw this shift as the beginning of a grand democratic movement in Western civilization, one that championed the weak over the strong, the mass over the individual.

The alt-right — or at least parts of the alt-right — are enamored of this strain of Nietzsche’s thought. The influential alt-right blog Alternative Right refers to Nietzsche as a great “visionary” and published an essay affirming his warnings about cultural decay.

“Future historians will likely look back on the contemporary West as a madhouse,” the essay’s author writes, “where the classic virtues of heroism, high culture, nobility, self-respect, and reason had almost completely disappeared, along with the characteristics of adulthood generally.”

There is something punk rock about his philosophy. You read it for the first time and you think, “Holy shit, how was I so blind for so long?!”

Christianity is wrong, Christendom is right

In his interview with the Atlantic, Spencer, an avowed atheist, surprised Wood with a peculiar defense of Christianity: that the religion is false but it “bound together the civilizations of Europe.”

Spencer’s view is common among the alt-right. They have no interest in the teachings of Christ, but they see the whole edifice of white European civilization as built on a framework of Christian beliefs. From their perspective, Christendom united the European continent and forged white identity.

It’s a paradox: They believe the West has grown degenerate and weak because it internalized Christian values, but they find themselves defending Christendom because they believe it’s the glue that binds European culture together.

Last August, Vox Day, a prominent alt-right thinker (who often cites Nietzsche in his posts), laid out the central tenets of the alt-right in a post titled “What the Alt-Right is.” There are a number of revealing points, one of which reads:

The Alt Right believes Western civilization is the pinnacle of human achievement and supports its three foundational pillars: Christianity, the European nations, and the Graeco-Roman legacy.

Nietzsche accepted that Christianity was central to the development of Western civilization, but his whole philosophy was focused on convincing people that the West had to move beyond Christianity.

When Nietzsche famously declared that “God is dead,” he meant that science and reason had progressed to the point where we could no longer justify belief in God, and that meant that we could no longer justify the values rooted in that belief. So his point was that we had to reckon with a world in which there is no foundation for our highest values.

The alt-right skipped this part of Nietzsche’s philosophy. They’re tickled by the “death of God” thesis but ignore the implications.

“Nietzsche's argument was that you had to move forward, not fall back onto ethnocentrism,” Hugo Drochon, author of Nietzsche’s Great Politics, told me. “So in many ways Spencer is stuck in the 'Shadows of God' — claiming Christianity is over but trying to find something that will replace it so that we can go on living as if it still existed, rather than trying something new.”

A man makes a slashing motion across his throat twoard counter-protesters as he marches with other white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the 'alt-right' during the 'Unite the Right' rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
A man makes a slashing motion across his throat toward counterprotesters as he marches with other white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and members of the alt-right during the “Unite the Right” rally August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The irony of racist Nietzscheans

The alt-right renounces Christianity but insists on defending Christendom against nonwhites. But that’s not Nietzsche; that’s just racism. And the half-baked defense of “Christendom” is an attempt to paper over that fact.

Nietzsche was interested in ideas, in freedom of thought. To the extent that he knocked down the taboos of his day, it was to free up the creative powers of the individual. He feared the death of God would result in an era of mass politics in which people sought new “isms” that would give them a group identity.

“The time is coming when the struggle for dominion over the earth will be carried on in the name of fundamental philosophical doctrines,” he wrote. By doctrines, he meant political ideologies like communism or socialism. But he was equally contemptuous of nationalism, which he considered petty and provincial.

Listening to Spencer talk about Nietzsche (and, regrettably, I listened to his Nietzsche podcast) is like hearing someone who never got past the introduction of any of his favorite books. It’s the kind of dilettantism you hear in first-year critical theory seminars. He uses words like “radical traditionalist” and “archeofuturist,” neither of which means anything to anyone.

Like so many superficial readers of Nietzsche, Spencer is excited by the radicalism but doesn’t take it seriously. Spencer’s rejection of conventional conservatism clearly has roots in Nietzsche’s ideas, but Spencer’s fantasy of a white ethnostate is exactly what Nietzsche was condemning in the Germany of his time.

“Nietzsche's way forward was not more [racial] purity but instead more mixing,” Drochon told me. “His ideal was to bring together the European Jew and the Prussian military officer. Spencer, I take it, only wants the latter.” Nietzsche, for better or worse, longed for a new kind of European citizen, one free of group attachments, be they racial or ideological or nationalistic.

Racists find affirmation in Nietzsche’s preference for “Aryan humanity,” a phrase he uses in several books, but that term doesn’t mean what racists think it means. “Aryan humanity” is always contrasted with Christian morality in Nietzsche’s works; it’s a reference to pre-Christian Paganism. Second, in Nietzsche’s time, “Aryan” was not a racially pure concept; it also included Indo-Iranian peoples.

People often say that the Nazis loved Nietzsche, which is true. What’s less known is that Nietzsche’s sister, who was in charge of his estate after he died, was a Nazi sympathizer who shamefully rearranged his remaining notes to produce a final book, The Will to Power, that embraced Nazi ideology. It won her the favor of Hitler, but it was a terrible disservice to her brother’s legacy.

Nietzsche regularly denounced anti-Semitism and even had a falling-out with his friend Richard Wagner, the proto-fascist composer, on account of Wagner’s rabid anti-Semitism. Nietzsche also condemned the “blood and soil” politics of Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian statesman who unified Germany in 1871, for cementing his power by stoking nationalist resentments and appealing to racial purity.

So there’s no way to square Nietzsche’s philosophy with the racial politics of the alt-right, just as it wasn’t fair to charge Nietzsche with inspiring Nazism. But both of these movements found just enough ambiguity in his thought to justify their hate.

The alt-right renounces Christianity but insists on defending Christendom against nonwhites. But that’s not Nietzsche; that’s just racism.

Nietzsche as a mirror

Nietzsche liked to say that he “philosophized with a hammer.” For someone on the margins, stewing in their own hate or alienation or boredom, his books are a blast of dynamite. All that disillusionment suddenly seems profound, like you just stumbled upon a secret that justifies your condition.

He tells you that the world is wrong, that society is upside down, that all our sacred cows are waiting to be slaughtered. So if you’re living in a multiethnic society, you trash pluralism. If you’re embedded in a liberal democracy, you trumpet fascism. In short, you become politically incorrect — and fancy yourself a rebel for it.

Nietzsche was a lot of things — iconoclast, recluse, misanthrope — but he wasn’t a racist or a fascist. He would have shunned the white identity politics of the Nazis and the alt-right. That he’s been hijacked by racists and fascists is partly his fault, though. His writings are riddled with contradictions and puzzles. And his fixation on the future of humankind is easily confused with a kind of social Darwinism.

But in the end, people find in Nietzsche’s work what they went into it already believing. Which is why the alt-right, animated as they are by rage and discontent, find in Nietzsche a mirror of their own resentments. If you’re seeking a reason to reject a world you don’t like, you can find it anywhere, especially in Nietzsche.

25 Apr 08:57

9 tips för källkritik på nätet

by Hexmaster
Häromdagen höll jag åter en föreläsning om källkritik. En av bilderna utgörs av nio konkreta tips.

1. Vem står bakom sajten?
Vad står det på sajtens "Om"-sida? Om ingen sådan finns så är redan det en varningssignal. Vad står det om sajten på Wikipedia? Vem har registrerat domänen?

2. Vem står bakom nyheten?Är en artikel i själva verket ett pressmeddelande? Som på sin höjd fått en lätt rewrite när redaktionen stuvat om texten en smula? Om ett omotiverat företagsnamn förekommer, som till exempel i klassikern "enligt en undersökning från [företag]...", så kan man vara säker på det. En intressant observation är att namnet tenderar att vara med någonstans vid det fjärde stycket. Precis i början vore lite väl uppenbart (givet att avsändaren inte vill att pressmeddelandet ska se ut som ett pressmeddelande), och i slutet riskerar det att redigeras bort.

3. Vad står det, egentligen?Undersökningar visar att väldigt många väldigt ofta delar artiklar utan att ha läst mer än rubriken. Ett hett tips för den blivande källkritikern: Läs mer än rubriken.

4. Går påståendet att kontrollera?Har någon mer skrivit om samma sak? Kanske med en annan vinkling? Leder slagningar till samma källa?

5. Vad visar kontrollen?Denna punkt kan ses som en logisk fortsättning av punkt 3: Om en artikel beskriver en vetenskaplig studie, läs studien. Det är mycket vanligt att en studie beskrivs av en journalist som missförstått studiden. När sedan artikeln får en rubrik av en rubriksättare som missförstått artikeln är förvirringen total.

6. Hur "märkvärdigt" är påståendet?Det finns en klassisk regel som formulerats av många personer genom tiderna, som Laplace, Thomas Jefferson m.fl., men vars mest berömda formulering kommer från Carl Sagan: "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". Denna punkt är ofta svårare än den ser ut. Många gånger kräver det lite eftertanke för att inse hur osannolik ett påstående är, särskilt när det så att säga rimmar med den egna världsbilden.

7. Vilken uppmärksamhet får påståendet?Folk har oerhört lätt för att tappa fokus och diskutera något annat än det påstående de tror att de diskuterar.

8. När skapades källan?Är nyheten du delar publicerad en dag eller en vecka gammal? Eller en månad, ett år eller ett decennium? Detta låter inte som någon tyngre fråga men felet är väldigt vanligt, särskilt som många sajter av någon anledning gärna gömmer undan publiceringsdatum (den sista tiden har en del blivit bättre på detta). En del artiklar är folk väldigt glada att dela år efter år, trots att de vederlagts gång på gång ... Se även bloggposten Kolla datum!

9. Bildgoogla!Utgörs nyheten/påståendet av en bild? Föreställer den verkligen vad som påstås? När har den tagits, var, och i vilket sammanhang? Ofta kan man snabbt och lätt få facit eller åtminstone goda hintar medelst en lika snabb som enkel bildgoogling.

24 Apr 13:44

Growing up in the Wild Wild Country cult: ‘You heard people having sex all the time, like baboons’

When Noa Maxwell was four, his bohemian upper-middle-class parents, disillusioned with London, bought a farm in Herefordshire, where they began to live self-sufficiently – harvesting by horse, slaughtering pigs, curing bacon, making butter – while trying to find time to paint.

One day in 1976 they received a letter from a friend who was in India where he had found the meaning of everything. So Noa’s family – parents plus three children – went out to visit the ashram in Poona where the controversial guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho, was preaching his mix of eastern mysticism, western philosophy and free love, raising the consciousness and promising utopia to his orange-clad international followers.

Rajneesh, who died in 1990, and his sannyasin movement, have found themselves in the public eye again in recent weeks thanks to the Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country. The much talked-about series focuses on the community they established in Oregon after they were forced out of India in 1981, and how they got on with the locals. (Short answer: not well.)

The guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in a still from Wild Wild Country
The guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and sannyasin devotees in a still from Wild Wild Country. Photograph: Netflix

My meeting with Noa, now 46, at a cafe in Notting Hill, west London, has come about because of the show. I wrote a positive review of it. It’s an extraordinary story – of mistrust and misunderstanding, power and politics, fear and loathing that escalated to attempted murder, terrorism and chemical warfare – exhaustively and objectively told. But I wanted to know more, about life in the cult, particularly for the children who can be seen running around in the background of shots. Noa tweeted me. He was one of them – first in Poona, then Oregon.

In Poona, Noa’s family soon agreed that this was their new life. After returning to the UK to sell the farm, they came back to India, Noa’s parents, Noa and his younger brother. His older one has a different dad and didn’t come, which would cause a lot of pain to his mum.

Noa remembers visiting Rajneesh to be given new sannyasin names and other kids running up and asking: “What’s your new name?” He couldn’t remember and had to ask his mum. Noa Maxwell’s new name was Swami Deva Rupam.

Soon Noa’s mum was living in one place in the ashram, his dad somewhere else, and Noa was in the kids’ hut. “We had been a tight, 70s middle-class family, and within a very short period that family unit was ripped up,” he says.

The children’s hut was an octagonal bamboo structure with bunks. Noa and the other kids – from Australia, Germany, America – were pretty much left to their own devices. There was a school, “run by this crazy English hippie called Sharma with long blond hair and a guitar and we would sing ‘We all live in the orange submarine’. I don’t know how much it mattered if we were in school or not. When I eventually did get back to this country when I was 10 I couldn’t read anything or write anything, or do two plus two.”

He did learn how to smoke. And at the age of six he got accidentally stoned by eating hash cake.

dynamic meditation by the followers of guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh cult in Rajneeshpuram in central Oregon.
Feeling the force … dynamic meditation by the followers of guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh cult in Rajneeshpuram in Oregon. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The most shocking bit of the Netflix documentary is a clip of a film taken by a German inside the Poona ashram of what seems to be a violent orgy inside a padded room. Noa never saw this type of thing but he did witness some freaky behaviour and emotion. Laughter was a way of saying “I’m OK with my feelings,” and one night thousands of people suddenly started laughing hysterically, crying with laughter. Noa was certainly aware of the sex. “You could hear people having orgasmic sex all the time. All night, like mating baboons, gibbons.”

And he knew his parents had different partners. Was that upsetting? “I never showed upset. The narrative – particularly from my dad – was: this is fantastic, you’re fantastic. So I showed fantastic. I know my mum was struggling. She has said since she was already massively questioning what we’d done. They were notionally still together but we weren’t living as a family unit.”

In some ways the independence Noa had has stood him in good stead, he says. “But if you have no boundaries in your life the world is quite scary.” Boundaries – or lack of them – is something that comes up again and again.

He says he can understand the appeal of Rajneesh, the aura of the man, the extraordinary voice, his charisma. “But I think without doubt he was deeply culpable, guilty of neglect of his people and did massive damage to many of them.”

He doesn’t like seeing pictures of him. And he has fundamental problems with the message. “For me, the meaning of my life is about family, family relationships, and that was blatantly disregarded in the idea that these kids are just going to be happy growing up in this wild place.”

In some ways it’s hard to connect this engaging, articulate man sipping a macchiato in Le Pain Quotidien with the tearaway hippy child running wild, free of shoes and boundaries, in India. But there is something in his eyes, a look that says: yeah, we’ve seen a bit, in our time.

Ma Anand Sheela of the Rajneesh sect poses for a mugshot in Mulnomah County, Oregon in 1985.
Bhagwan’s personal assistant/lieutenant Ma Anand Sheela of the Rajneesh sect poses for a mugshot in Mulnomah County, Oregon in 1985. Photograph: Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

After Noa and his family had spent about four years in Poona, and amid increasing tension between the ashram and the Indian authorities, Rajneesh and his followers moved to the US and set up a commune on a ranch in Wasco County, Oregon. This is where Wild Wild Country picks up the story. The star/villain of the Netflix show is Rajneesh’s personal assistant/lieutenant, Ma Anand Sheela, who was instrumental in the rapid creation of Rajneeshpuram, a new city in the middle of nowhere and an extraordinary human feat.

Noa’s memory of Sheela is that she was confident, funny, cool. “But I also knew, because I would hear from my parents, that she was ruthless, and I think it was clear the power she had.”

His dad had a run-in with Sheela over chickens, after which he was immediately taken off farming duties (which he knew a lot about), and put on fire-tower watch. Noa’s mum looked after cows. Neither of them were part of Sheela’s inner circle.

Noa remembers the crazy, fevered work that was being done. And the elements, being colder in winter than he had ever experienced, and brutally hot in summer. Again, he lived with the other kids, running wild, trying to jump on to ice blocks floating on the river, killing snakes, putting spiders and wasps into cassette boxes to see which would kill which. In many ways it was brilliant.

He has one sad memory. “There was one night when we got hold of a barrel of beer and we were just necking the beer on and on, and suddenly for the first time I got really drunk. If you think about it, aged 10, it’s a bit early. Then I just started wailing for my mum and dad, I just wanted them.”

He says they – the kids – were probably a little bit more advanced with sex, too. “Not madly, well it depends who, but I think we probably were a bit further ahead. We were further ahead with everything.”

Much of the documentary centres on the antagonism between the sannyasins and the Wasco County locals. “They were the enemy,” Noa says. “Stupid, conventional, conservative people.”

The sannyasins thought they were better than everyone else, and that comes over in the documentary. Noa was amazed, when he did get out, meeting a friend of his mum’s for example, that she could be articulate and emotionally intelligent. “I thought unless you were a sannyasin, that was impossible, you would just be a kind of drone.”

He thinks the series focuses too much on the conflict between sannyasins and rednecks. “That is interesting, but the inside story is more interesting – of how you end up with lots of intelligent middle-class people like my family going into where they got to, the heart of darkness. How does that happen? It’s like an ideal is bigger than reality and can make you lose your sense of justice and what’s right in the world.”

Noa wasn’t aware at the time of the scandals that feature in the series – an immigration fraud that involved sannyasins going off to get married in various parts of the country so that they could stay in the US, the poisoning of 751 people in the town of The Dalles, through contamination of salad bars at local restaurants, and another shocking episode where they bussed in a load of homeless people in order to win a county election. In fact, Noa had left by the time these events had taken place, although he did remember seeing the homeless people at the ashram, on the other side of a chainlink fence, on a visit back to see his father.

Why would he know what was going on? He was a kid, and this was his life. But he noticed the increased tensions and power struggles and that there were more and more guns about the place. “By that time, you kind of knew it was cranky; everything was cranky, there was massive paranoia about Aids and about the world coming to an end.”

“My parents said: 'What do you want to do?' And I said: 'I want to go to school and learn things'

In 1986, Sheela pleaded guilty to attempted murder and electronic eavesdropping within the commune, as well as her part in the immigration fraud and poisoning incidents, and was given a prison term along with two other leaders.

When, in 1993, Waco happened, and the compound of cult leader David Koresh was stormed by the FBI, leading to 76 fatalities, it affected Noa profoundly. He suddenly realised that something like that could have happened to them.

Noa’s mother ended up wanting out – she had been uncomfortable even in Poona. They had come back to Britain, the marriage was over; she was going to stay in Norfolk, his dad was returning to Oregon and Noa and his brother were given a choice. “I remember sitting in the back of the car and they said: ‘What do you want to do?’ I said: ‘I want to stay and go to school and learn things.’” Noa’s brother made the same decision.

That has been Noa’s response to his “weirdo” childhood, to go diametrically opposite to everything he experienced. “I wanted to as be normal as possible, I made a lot of choices that would give me something solid.”

He says it was a good thing he got out when he did. “If I’d stayed longer I think the disengagement with the real world would have become more accentuated. That’s the sense I get from kids who stayed longer. I imagine it was hard to assimilate back and a lot of them ended up deeper in that kind of fringe world.”

It wasn’t easy, going to the local comprehensive. He still went by the name of Rupam, which he didn’t change for a long time, out of loyalty to his dad. But he was good at fitting in, adapting. He said his Indian name was because his dad had farmed in India. No mention of ashrams.

There had been press reports about the sex cult, the guru with all the Rolls Royces. Noa began to realise how weird it was, and he didn’t want to be associated with that. But he was way behind, and he was getting into trouble, not because he was rebellious but because he was finding it hard to exist in the real world.

His grandmother then paid for him to go to a hippy vegetarian private school, which encouraged Noa’s desire to become an actor. One day, the headmaster called a special assembly because there were some very dangerous people coming to town, a sex cult called the sannyasins. A warning video was shown, and guess what the opening shot was? A closeup of Noa’s face. Thankfully, because of his wild hair and the fact that it was taken a few years before, no one recognised him.

The sannyasins carried on, in various locations, in various factions, after the end of Rajneeshpuram and after the end of Rajneesh. His father is still very much involved with them. Noa’s mother’s feelings about it are dominated by pain and guilt.

And Noa? It’s a strange mix of both resentment and gratitude. He’s done his fair share – “a massive share” he says – of different sorts of therapy to deal with a childhood with no boundaries, how scary that is, how power can be abused and how emotions can get out of control. And he’s very wary of gurus.

Yet he says he acquired a good deal of understanding about people from his time in the cult, which has been invaluable. He did become an actor, using the name Rupam Maxwell – his last role was in Emmerdale, where he played racy young aristocrat Lord Alex Oakwell from 1997-98.

Then he went into coaching. He now advises clients on personal impact, teaching them to harness their natural strengths for pitches, presentations and media appearances. Again, he says he likes the linear structure of working with law and accounting firms, with their boundaries and rules. He says the basis of what he does is about authenticity, and however misguided it was, that’s what the people in Poona and Oregon were after, too. After our coffee, he’s going to Geneva for a meeting.

He is married. His wife is from “a really good Irish Catholic background, and I love that”. They have three children, aged 17, 16 and nine.

What kind of father is he? “Not as good as I think I am. My older kids now tell me about times I was too angry with them when they were young and all that kind of stuff. But that, for me, is first and foremost in my life: family, being supported by your mother and father in a way that says I’m there to help you grow into this world.”

He has talked about the ashram with them. He feels relaxed and able to now, and says they are understanding, insightful, balanced. “Now they’ll probably go and join a cult,” he adds.

24 Apr 13:38

The rise of Russia’s neo-Nazi football hooligans

The day that Denis Nikitin, a Russian neo-Nazi who claims he once kept a framed photograph of Joseph Goebbels in his bedroom, took part in his first street fight, his mother made him a packed lunch. During the past 12 years, the Moscow-based MMA fighter has become a rising star of the far right, after brawling his way up through the ranks of one of Russia’s top hooligan firms. But on that day, Nikitin says, he was like a schoolboy on his first field trip; his mother, who thought her 22-year-old son was going to watch a football match, filled his rucksack with food and warm clothes.

Nikitin took a six-hour bus ride to the match, but he had not bought a ticket. (His fellow hooligans joke that, in the past decade, he has been inside a football stadium fewer than five times.) Since his family had moved from Moscow to Germany a few years earlier, his interests had narrowed to far-right politics and violence. Nikitin’s local “team” was visiting Hamburg – a city whose left-wing supporters were a favourite target of the far-right Cologne hooligans. Nikitin’s hobbies just happened to intersect at football.

At around midnight, as two buses carrying Cologne’s supporters approached Hamburg, someone shouted: “They’re here.” Through the window, Nikitin saw around 30 Hamburg hooligans in front of the vehicle. It seemed odd – the 90-odd Cologne hooligans on the buses greatly outnumbered the men outside. It would not be a fair fight. Nikitin disembarked, ran to a nearby bush, and set his rucksack beneath the branches. Then he looked up. On the guardrail of an overlooking footbridge he saw a line of silhouettes – at least 70 men, to add to the 30 in front of the coaches. An ambush, then.

Nikitin remembers running toward the Hamburg hooligans. He picked out his first target and, from behind, landed a flying punch. As the man twisted in shock, Nikitin realised he had struck one of his own side. “Oh, fuck,” he shouted, “sorry, sorry, sorry, man.” The fight was chaotic; in the dark it was difficult to pick out team colours, badges or scarves. With the panic of a person who wants to immediately put right a wrong after it is made, Nikitin jumped on another silhouette and began striking him in the head. This, too, was a Cologne supporter.

Blushing under his balaclava, Nikitin waited for some kind of sign. Moments later it came. One of the Hamburg hooligans came running at him, screaming abuse. Nikitin, wearing gloves lined with metal pellets, landed a sucker punch on the screamer. As the man fell to the ground, Nikitin readied a follow-up blow. Before it connected, a rival supporter pulled off Nikitin’s balaclava, and began pummelling his face. Nikitin broke free and started running for the buses, over ground scattered with fallen phones and wallets. Back at the road, only one vehicle remained; the other driver had fled.

As the remaining bus pulled away, Nikitin looked at the men around him, their faces streaked with browning blood, and felt a surge of euphoria. It had not gone unnoticed that he was one of the last men to get back on board. In his leaders’ nodding approval, Nikitin experienced the first flush, not just of belonging, but of something close to a calling. “The media pretends that people like me will end up alone in prison, or as an alcoholic, or depressed,” he told me last year. “This is considered your inevitable fate as a Nazi football hooligan. It is a lie.”

In the summer of 2016, the Russian football hooligan, previously a provincial sort of bogeyman, padded on to the international stage at the European Championship in France. On 10 June, an estimated 150 Russians descended on Marseille’s Old Port. They moved in orderly phalanxes, greeting any England supporters they ran into with extravagant violence. One England fan had his Achilles tendons sliced. Two English men were left in a coma, one of whom was left paralysed on the left-hand side of his body (his alleged assailant, wanted for attempted murder, was arrested in Germany in February). Another man reportedly travelled home on the Eurostar with glass from a shattered bottle still lodged in his neck.

Russian supporters attack England fans after a European Championship match in Marseille, 2016
Russian supporters attack England fans after a European Championship match in Marseille, 2016. Photograph: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Ch Supt Steve Neill, of Northumbria police, one of several officers deployed from England to aid French police that day, told Sky News. “The Russians came with serious intent to carry out barbaric violence. They were highly organised, very effective. We saw football hooliganism on a different level.” One Russian hooligan who took part in the fighting later told a French news agency: “The English always say they are the main football hooligans; we went to show that the English are girls.”

Some Russian politicians claimed their country had been disproportionately singled out by the media and authorities (two English fans were jailed for their part in the violence). The deputy prime minister, Vitaly Mutko, then Russia’s sports minister, went so far as to call it a “set-up”. Other Russian public figures praised the hooligans for promoting a powerful, unassailable vision of their country to the world. “I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting,” tweeted Igor Lebedev, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament. “Quite the opposite: well done lads, keep it up!”

At first, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, smirkingly questioned how 200 Russian supporters could see off “a few thousand Englishmen”. But the Kremlin was also aware that these same men could embarrass the nation if mass violence erupts at the 2018 World Cup, a tournament Russia will host for the first time – and the government belatedly tried to distance itself from the hooligans. After a meeting with the leaders of his own security agencies, Putin publicly stressed “the need to learn from the French experience”. Russian police gained new powers that class even minor offences, such as setting off fireworks at football games, as acts of terrorism.

According to Russian newspaper reports, in December 2016, more than 100 police officers and members of the FSB, Russia’s security service, raided hooligans’ homes. Arrests duly followed, including that of Alexei Yerunov, the leader of the FC Lokomotiv firm Vikings, who had already spent several months in a French prison before returning to Russia. In all, more than 200 hooligans have been issued with court orders banning them from football matches till the end of the World Cup.

Hooliganism came relatively late to Russian football, emerging in the early 1990s as a self-conscious copy of the decades-old English example – with its vicious firms, favoured clothing labels and racist chants. In a country emerging from the Soviet gloom in search of a new, assertive identity, hooliganism seemed to offer young men like Nikitin a shot of steadying nationalism, as well as a hypermasculine community that provided status and belonging. Hooliganism also presented something of a career path through the ruins of the post-Soviet economy. Politicians, especially on the far right, saw Moscow’s football thugs as a possibly forceful group of disenfranchised voters – and began to court these young men, laying on free transport to away games, paying members to work as bodyguards or street muscle, and even offering the occasional well-paid role as a party official.

In time, imitation of the English developed into a new culture of thuggery. In Among the Thugs, the defining book on England’s hooliganism, published in 1990, the writer Bill Buford characterised the football yob as the “fatty manifestation of gallons and gallons of lager and incalculable quantities of bacon-flavoured crisps”. The Russians, by contrast, set down their beers and began training in earnest, not only at the gym, but also in covert fights staged in local forests, where young hooligans from rival teams would scrap in the dawn mist.

It was at one of these gatherings, after an invitation from a fellow gym-goer, that Nikitin met his first hooligans, and began to learn the art of the mob brawl, first through observation, then participation. Like many of his peers, as Nikitin grew in confidence, he began to compete in and even organise MMA tournaments. Collectively, the Russian hooligans were becoming more professional. “At some point, Russian hooliganism shifted away from amateurism,” he told me when we met last autumn. In turn, fights became more deadly: in November 2017 a 30-year-old man died after his neck was broken during a clash between hooligans affiliated to teams Sibir Novosibirsk and Yenisey Krasnoyarsk.

It was this well-trained force that debuted with such brutality on the international stage in Marseilles. And as the World Cup draws closer, pressure on Russian hooligans has intensified further. The Kremlin panicked after the broadcast of a BBC documentary last year called Russia’s Hooligan Army – in which the then-leader of the Spartak firm, Gladiators, Vasily “The Killer” Stepanov, was secretly filmed saying that the Moscow hooligans were Putin’s foot soldiers. Some of the men interviewed for the programme said it contained factual errors (Nikitin was assigned to the wrong firm, for instance, and Stepanov claims his views were misrepresented) – but in Russia, as one senior hooligan told me, it was “like a bomb had gone off”.

Russian police issued a call for anyone featured on the documentary to report to local stations in order to sign forms stating that they were coerced by the BBC to lie on camera. (At a match the following month, Spartak fans unfurled a panoramic banner that mimicked the BBC logo, alongside the words “Blah Blah Channel”.) Last year, the Kremlin assigned an FSB agent to each of the 11 clubs in Moscow, where they work with a fan liaison officer – usually a senior hooligan from each firm – in an attempt to control their members.

Spartak Moscow fans hold a giant banner during a game against Lokomotiv Moscow.
Spartak Moscow fans with an anti-BBC banner during a game against Lokomotiv Moscow, 2017. Photograph: Tass/PA

For hooligans who have for years had the backing of the authorities, both tacit and explicit, this reversal feels like a betrayal. “For 10 years we were supported by the government,” said Alexander Shprygin, who took part in hooligan fights starting in 1994, and who chartered a plane and flew a cadre of Russian hooligans to Marseille in 2016. “After France, the government stopped supporting us.”

But the obsessive focus on violence at the World Cup – not least from UK tabloids – has overshadowed the real significance of Russian hooliganism. For two decades, Russia’s firms have been a machine for recruiting and radicalising young men to the far right, which has seeded racist ideology at the centre of the country’s football culture. They may have been forced underground, but Russia’s powerful firms are not likely to vanish – and their influence will take decades to erase. “After the summer,” Shprygin told me, “everybody will forget about us.”

Shprygin was turned away from his first football match at the age of nine. He had come to watch his team, FC Dynamo, play at the Central Dynamo Stadium in Moscow, but unaccompanied children were denied entry. So the next week, he convinced an older man outside the gates to pose as his father. Once inside, he recalled, Shprygin was immediately attracted to the loudest and most fanatical supporters – the ultras – and began to regularly sit among them.

Young, isolated and with few career prospects, Shprygin was the ideal hooligan recruit. In August 1993, when he was 14, one of the older men approached him with news of a plan to found one of Russia’s first firms: Blue White Dynamite. As its membership grew, BWD’s members began to seek out and attack rival ultras. At first, these clashes, usually staged in Moscow’s vaulted subway stations, were modest. But when fans of Moscow’s best-known club, Spartak, formed a rival firm, the violence escalated in both severity and scope; skirmishes sometimes involved 500 participants. “By 1995, every Moscow football club had a firm,” recalled Shprygin. “The fights became much larger.”

As the numbers swelled, smaller firms broke off from the larger groups, creating a network of distinct, yet interlinked gangs. Today, the largest of the Russian capital’s 11 football clubs, Spartak Moscow, has three major firms – Union, Shkola and Gladiators – each with an associated youth division. Beyond these, a constellation of smaller splinter groups operate under the Spartak umbrella. One senior hooligan estimates that there are as many as 500 active members of Spartak-affiliated firms. By collaborating with one another as the need arises, Spartak’s firms are able to raise a small army under their team’s banner.

This collective power was first demonstrated in 1999, when Spartak played an away game against Saturn Ramenskoye. When Spartak conceded its first goal in the 23rd minute, violence began to bubble in the stands: jostling grew into a few fistfights and, eventually, a full-scale riot. For the first time in Russian football history, the match was stopped due to fighting in the stands. Footage of the event shows some police beating Spartak fans in the head with batons, while others struggle to pull their colleagues away.

In August 1998, Shprygin, who was by then editor of Dynamo’s fan magazine, claims he received a message on his pager asking him to call a mysterious number. It was a meeting request from a prominent rightwing opposition politician. The next day Shprygin claims he visited the State Duma, the lower house of the federal assembly of Russia. In the lobby, he saw one of the hooligan leaders from Spartak Moscow. The pair were ushered into the politician’s office and offered jobs as his assistants.

Shprygin’s role was to act as a liaison between the politician and the firm, who would routinely provide security for his party. “We were never fists of the party, per se,” Shprygin explained, when we met in a football-themed pub in Moscow. But, he claims, they would provide the politician with security, and in return, his party would pay for buses and trains to take the hooligans to away fixtures. No money changed hands, but Shprygin says the expectation was clear: the fans would thereafter vote for the party in elections, and fight when called upon.

The arrangement proved useful for Shprygin’s career. In 2007, at the behest of the FSB, he says, he founded a group called the Union of Russian Fans. Despite his rising fortunes in politics at the time (Shprygin has been photographed with Putin on at least three separate occasions, before his alleged involvement in the Marseille violence led to his arrest) Shprygin continued to be actively involved in street violence. Shortly after founding the union, Shprygin and other members of his firm were invited by a far-right group of skinheads to meet up in a local park. The plan, it was explained, was to attack hip-hop concertgoers as they left a venue. “Rap is black music,” Shprygin told me, by way of explanation. “So we went to the park and we waited.” That night he took part in his first street violence aimed at people outside of football.

Shprygin’s progression is common. “Many ultras are sympathetic to radical nationalists and some even take part in their activities,” said Mikhail Akhmetiev, a professor at Sova, a Moscow-based thinktank that studies nationalism and racism in Russia. “The former head of Spartak’s Fratria fan community, Ivan ‘Combat’ Katanaev, and the head of the Gladiators firm Vasily ‘The Kille’” Stepanov are involved in ultra-conservative activities,” he said. In recent years there has been a marked increase in so-called “white wagon” attacks, where groups of racists wearing surgical masks and balaclavas board trains and attack anyone of non-Slavic descent. A 2014 report from Sova reports that white wagon operations are committed “at least partly by football supporters”, and are “more likely to occur on match days”. For young men who, like Shprygin, become entranced by the older fans at matches, the route to radicalisation is quick and clear, and there has been no shortage of political entities eager to co-opt and leverage these fans.

For Nikitin, hooliganism is inextricable from far-right activism. After he returned to Russia in the 2000s, radicalised by his time fighting in German hooligan circles, he became increasingly involved in violence against immigrants. He split his time between fighting hooligans and attacking minorities in the streets. When, during one of our meetings in Moscow last year, I asked Nikitin whether there was a difference between hooligan violence and racist violence, he told me to switch off my recorder. “If we kill one immigrant every day, that’s 365 immigrants in a year,” he said, after agreeing that I could record again. “But tens of thousands more will come anyway. I realised we were fighting the consequence, but not the underlying reason. So now we fight for minds, not on the street, but on social media.”

Football, with its tribal communities and martial symbolism, has long been a battleground for minds. A draft Home Office paper on English football hooliganism, published in October 2000, described the atmosphere at England’s international fixtures as like “watching a football match during a Nuremberg rally” – a hostile climate that was decades in the making. In 1981, for example, the National Front published a magazine about music and sport that included a section titled the League of Louts, in which football hooligans were invited to compete to have their club labelled the most racist in Britain. Readers were encouraged to hurl bananas on to the pitch whenever a black player was fielded. As Derek Holland, an organiser for the far-right group, once put it, the aim of targeting football fans was to “win the hearts and minds of young people”.

“The old National Front thing was that you didn’t count England goals that were scored by black players,” explains Mark Perryman, a British academic and author of Hooligan Wars. “In the 70s there was a generalised racism and xenophobia which was a reflection of the popularity of the National Front, which had a strong base in certain clubs.” Some football hooligans became members of neo-Nazi organisations at the time, such as Combat 18, while, in the early 1990s, members of the Headhunters, one of Chelsea’s best-known firms, would provide muscle for fascist events. It was only following sustained anti-fascist campaigns at English clubs that racist violence around football began to subside.

In Russia, hooligan racism did not generally face this kind of organised ideological opposition. “There were far more of them than there were of us,” says Maxim Solopov, a journalist who took part in anti-fascist clashes with Russian hooligans between 2006 and 2010. Without the intervention of police, anti-fascists like Solopov took the fight to the streets, placing informants in each of the different fan groups. “They would tell us where their groups were going to appear,” he said. “The first rule was to engage first. We were always trying to instigate the fights, to give us an advantage.”

Maxim Solopov
Maxim Solopov. Photograph: Pete Kiehart

The first street fight Solopov attended, in autumn 2006, took place in central Moscow, outside the offices of the ministry for internal affairs. “We had girls acting as lookouts,” he recalled. “When the hooligans arrived, a row of antifa approached them with gas pistols.” Solopov, who was standing in the second line, broke a bottle over the head of a neo-Nazi. “Time collapsed,” he told me. “Ten seconds felt like for ever. I could see everything that was happening, every tiny detail.” The far-right hooligans, he says, were wielding knives. “The hooligans were attacking people not merely to scare, but to kill,” he said.

Without any concerted challenge from clubs, rightwing extremism in Russian football has endured. Nazi imagery remains rife on the terraces, according to a 2017 report from Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare), a network of groups set up to combat discrimination in and around the game: “Football fans use other neo-Nazi symbols such as the Celtic cross, SS Totenkopf and the symbols of rightwing Slavic neopaganism.” Sightings of historical Nazi slogans, such as “My honour is loyalty” – the motto of the SS – and “Jedem das Seine” (“To each what he deserves”, a German proverb written above the gates of the Buchenwald concentration camp) are also common.

The same report notes that, during the 2015-16 season, xenophobic attacks at matches “increased significantly”. In May 2017, the head of the Russian Football Union disciplinary committee, Artur Grigoryants, claimed there had been “no racist manifestations” during the 2016-17 season – but the authors of the Fare report clarified that “in fact he meant that there were no monkey chants”. (If true, even that moratorium was short-lived: last month there were monkey chants directed toward black French players at a friendly match in St Petersburg.)

To change the international perception of Russian football fans, the Kremlin has hired PR agencies that have planted so-called gentle fans who distribute sweets, warm tea and blankets at matches and post cheery selfies on Instagram. Despite these public displays, some believe that the government continues to support hooligans in private. “It’s true that the government is trying to clean up the image of football ahead of the World Cup,” says Solopov. “But they are far more concerned that something like the Ukrainian revolution might happen here, and that, if it does, the rightwing hooligans will take to the streets against the authorities. So in private, they still support violent fan groups. I believe that political power remains in the hands of the rightwing fans.”

The appointment of a so-called fan liaison officer in every club shows that the Kremlin believes it can control the hooligans. “The clubs appoint real hooligan leaders hoping they can keep the hooligans under control at important matches,” says Pavel Klymenko, who works for Fare. It is not clear the extent to which the system is effective, or even how it works.

It may be difficult for the state to control what it earlier turned a blind eye toward. “The state believed that [hooligan groups] were an organised force that could be used to maintain order,” said Yuri Abrashov, a former police colonel who is now the executive director of Event Safety, a government body that organises stewarding at sporting events. “But these groups made promises that were not being fulfilled.”

Despite the FSB monitoring, the bans and other efforts to crack down on far-right hooligan activity, there is still a legitimate risk of violence at the World Cup. “There might not be any pre-planned organised attacks because the hooligans are afraid of the security services,” says Klymenko. “But the way their structures work means it is not that easy to control everyone.”

On a drenched October afternoon, 40 minutes outside the centre of Moscow, near the dour Rostokino train station, I accompanied Nikitin along the railway tracks and down a slicked incline, into the woods, to a popular location for hooligan forest fights. Though bareknuckle fistfights were outlawed by the Bolsheviks in 1917, in recent years hooligans have resurrected the nationalistic tradition of Russian forest fighting, known as Stenka nu Stenka. The practice, which provides a relatively low-risk entry point for young fighters to join the hooligan ecosystem, has spread throughout Europe, and forest fights are now part of hooligan culture from Ukraine to Switzerland. “You sometimes hear of fatalities,” says Nikitin. “But I don’t believe anyone has died. That said, I recently had to help a guy whose lung had been punctured.”

When Nikitin first heard about forest fights, he had no interest in football or violence (he was, he admits, “into breakdancing”). “It seemed so stupid,” he says. “Surely it’s just idiots who have nothing better to do.” Then, when he was 23, a friend at his local gym invited Nikitin to a forest fight. “He seemed like a normal guy, so I become interested. I started asking him questions and he told me that it’s the best hobby anyone can pursue.” Nikitin, who says he rarely fought at school, was a natural. “I liked the atmosphere, the adrenaline, the need to be alert.”

A field and stand of trees used for organised fights on the outskirts of Moscow
A field and stand of trees used for ‘forest fights’ on the outskirts of Moscow. Photograph: Pete Kiehart

Nikitin is broad-set and with a network of scars on his forehead. As we walked, he kept one hand in the chest pocket of his bomber jacket, where he kept a knife. We tripped along a mud path till eventually, a few hundred metres past the treeline, Nikitin stopped and gestured toward the clearing we had come to look at.

Here, Nikitin explained, every few weeks in the early morning, 30 or so men will gather. They arrive in separate groups, divided according to the football team they each support (in chaotic street fights the hooligans use a codeword to show which side they are on), and huddle at either end of the clearing to discuss tactics. After a while, the men form two opposing lines, 20 metres apart. Some limber up on the spot; others hold tins of ammonia to their noses, to heighten their senses. Around the clearing stand other, older men, their arms crossed, watching what’s happening with the keenness of talent scouts. Some will film the action, to be reviewed later – footage occasionally appears on YouTube.

A whistle blows and the two groups pad toward each other. They move slowly at first, clapping their hands to show that they are not carrying weapons, before speeding to a sprint. The lines smash into each other, before peeling off into one-on-one skirmishes. Some fighters go down easily, perhaps hoping to avoid serious damage. Their lack of ambition is noted by the watching scouts; they will never again be invited back. Others crumple with real injuries. After just a few minutes, it becomes clear which side still has fighters standing, and has won. Some limp home or off to hospital. Those who have proven their talent for violence in the forest may be invited into the firm, and, from this boot camp, on to the street.

When his family returned to Russia in the late 2000s, Nikitin began to look for a new team and firm. The owner of a clothing store, to whom Nikitin sold Thor Steinar clothing, a German label closely associated with neo-Nazi groups, asked if he would like to join a Spartak firm, which was due to fight another team from St Petersburg. “But before that fight took place, another of my friends invited me to fight for another team, CSKA,” he recalled. “So I just started fighting for the other side. I never gave a shit about football teams, you know?”

Once a hooligan has chosen his team, however, there can be no switching. When one Spartak hooligan switched sides a few years ago, his previous firm threateningly unfurled a giant banner bearing his name and face at the next match. At CSKA, Nikitin soon began to rise through the ranks. In 2016, he received his pin, a badge of honour awarded for long and effective service that, he estimates, only 20% of the team’s hooligans have received.

While we waited for a car back to central Moscow, as night fell, Nikitin claimed that a forest fight would often be the mere start of the day’s violence. “After a forest fight, I would often say to the guys: ‘OK, who wants to go kick some immigrants?’” he recalled. “Most of them would reply: ‘Yeah, we can do that.’”

A few days later, at a Viking-themed restaurant in central Moscow, his knife resting on the table, Nikitin explained that, in recent months, his interest in street violence has lessened as he has come to realise it is an ineffective way to disseminate and implement his views. “Across Europe hooliganism is on the extreme rise right now,” he says. “But in Russia, it’s in decline” – thanks in part to the unwanted attention of this summer’s World Cup.

To help inspire a new generation of football hooligans, Nikitin launched his own clothing label, White Rex, which is marketed to hooligans and neo-Nazis. (In 2013, a convicted criminal who calls himself Tesak wore a White Rex shirt in a video he filmed of himself attacking a gay man.) From the gym, to the forest, to the street, Nikitin’s far-right ideology has been nurtured and intensified by football hooliganism. And now through his own business, he’s promoting these values to younger men, some of whom he hires to model his clothes.

Just as racism’s grip on English football has slowly loosened since the 1990s, attitudes may eventually shift in Russia as well, but it could take decades to undo what the hooligans have helped create. A few people suggested to me that attitudes among the youngest fans may already be starting to change. “Some are losing interest in the rightwing movement,” says Solopov, the former anti-fascist demonstrator turned journalist. “They want to just follow football. It’s happening slowly, but they are becoming apolitical.”

But these young fans will grow up in a footballing culture steeped in nationalist racism and promiscuous violence. The present crackdown on Moscow’s hooligans may halt the violence that put Russia’s firms in the spotlight. But the obsessive fixation on whether English fans will be met by gangs in Volgograd risks missing the much larger story: the hooligans, with the opportunistic backing of the government that’s now trying to bring them under control, have promoted and normalised the racism of the far right.

On a lazy, sunny October afternoon, Spartak’s second team jogged on to the field to face off against Luch Vladivostok. A couple of haggard sports journalists squinted unsmilingly at their notepads. In front of them, a seated line of elderly men in identikit beige sports jackets sipped from water bottles. Behind the Vladivostok goalkeeper, a platoon of young Spartak fans, arranged in neat rows, started up a braying chant.

There were maybe 15 boys here, between the ages of 12 and 17; trainee ultras who showed up to support the trainee-players on the field. The Spartak fans cycled through about five chants. Some of the precariously held tunes I recognised as English football chants, rewritten with loosely scanning Russian words. Others sound like old Soviet folk-songs. The singing was led by Arkady (not his real name), a boy with an unlovely yet muscular voice and a Beatles-ish mop. He rocked on his heels, head back, eyes closed, almost prayerfully, while the other boys followed his cues.

Fans chant during a game of Spartak’s second team.
Fans chant during a game of Spartak’s second team. Photograph: Pete Kiehart

The half time whistle blew and, finally, the Spartak boys fell quiet, and settled into their plastic chairs. An announcer politely asked, through the crackling tannoy, that supporters refrain from shouting racist slogans. Arkady is, by his own admission, a Spartak superfan. “I stand in the apolitical part of the stadium,” he said. “The firms and forest fights aren’t for me. Too many of those guys have been banned from coming to matches.”

But boys like Arkady have learned what it means to be a football fan in a climate defined by men like Nikitin and Shprygin. In the second half, Spartak’s standout player was Sylvanus Nimely, a 19-year-old striker from Liberia, one of only two black players on the field – who showed untiring commitment even after his side was reduced to 10 men. At one point, when Nimely streaked forward with the ball, a Vladivostok player slid in from behind and the Liberian international crumpled to the ground, rolling in agony on his back as his teammates clustered around. Arkady whispered something conspiratorial to his crew. Then he leaned back and emitted a low “Ooooooh.” The note gathered and grew in volume as each boy in turn added his voice to the crescendo. And then, in unison, with faces as clean as cherubs, they began to sing a racist song.

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19 Apr 08:45

An Aerial Tour of an Abandoned Chinese Fishing Village by Joe Nafis

by Kate Sierzputowski

The small fishing village of Houtouwan on the Chinese island of Shengshan has been abandoned since the 1990’s. Due to increased competition with nearby Shanghai and a depleted fishing supply, residents were forced to find work in other towns, leaving their own coastal village to the whim of Mother Nature.

Today the ghost town is only visited by tourists curious to see the vine-wrapped homes and other buildings swallowed by untamed greenery. Shanghai-based photographer and videographer Joe Nafis visited the area last year with fellow photographer Dave Tacon. It took them nearly 36 hours to reach the village due to lack of ferries or connection with other towns in the area. Once in town, Nafis explored the area on foot, as well as from above with his drone.

“Using the drone to explore the village first was a good idea as the paths were not well maintained and overgrown,” Nafis tells Colossal. “Some of the buildings were in tatters, while others looked like they were going through a remodel. It was all very strange. On the Sunday there were a few tourists, about ten to fifteen, and then on Monday we were the only people in the village other than the three to four that still lived there.”

You can view drone footage from the photographer’s visit to the overgrown village in the video below. He recently released an aerial time lapse video focusing on Shanghai’s urban development over the last seven years on his website, and more video-based projects by Nafis can be found on his Instagram and Vimeo. (via This Isn’t Happiness)

    

19 Apr 08:43

A Sobering Look at Fake Online Reviews

by BrianKrebs

In 2016, KrebsOnSecurity exposed a network of phony Web sites and fake online reviews that funneled those seeking help for drug and alcohol addiction toward rehab centers that were secretly affiliated with the Church of Scientology. Not long after the story ran, that network of bogus reviews disappeared from the Web. Over the past few months, however, the same prolific purveyor of these phantom sites and reviews appears to be back at it again, enlisting the help of Internet users and paying people $25-$35 for each fake listing.

Sometime in March 2018, ads began appearing on Craigslist promoting part-time “social media assistant” jobs, in which interested applicants are directed to sign up for positions at seorehabs[dot]com. This site promotes itself as “leaders in addiction recovery consulting,” explaining that assistants can earn a minimum of $25 just for creating individual Google for Business listings tied to a few dozen generic-sounding addiction recovery center names, such as “Integra Addiction Center,” and “First Exit Recovery.”

The listing on Craigslist.com advertising jobs for creating fake online businesses tied to addiction rehabilitation centers.

Applicants who sign up are given detailed instructions on how to step through Google’s anti-abuse process for creating listings, which include receiving a postcard via snail mail from Google that contains a PIN which needs to be entered at Google’s site before a listing can be created.

Assistants are cautioned not to create more than two listings per street address, but otherwise to use any U.S.-based street address and to leave blank the phone number and Web site for the new business listing.

A screen shot from Seorehabs’ instructions for those hired to create rehab center listings.

In my story Scientology Seeks Captive Converts Via Google Maps, Drug Rehab Centers, I showed how a labyrinthine network of fake online reviews that steered Internet searches toward rehab centers funded by Scientology adherents was set up by TopSeek Inc., which bills itself as a collection of “local marketing experts.” According to LinkedIn, TopSeek is owned by John Harvey, an individual (or alias) who lists his address variously as Sacramento, Calif. and Hawaii.

Although the current Web site registration records from registrar giant Godaddy obscure the information for the current owner of seorehabs[dot]com, a historic WHOIS search via DomainTools shows the site was also registered by John Harvey and TopSeek in 2015. Mr. Harvey did not respond to requests for comment. [Full disclosure: DomainTools previously was an advertiser on KrebsOnSecurity].

TopSeek’s Web site says it works with several clients, but most especially Narconon International — an organization that promotes the rather unorthodox theories of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard regarding substance abuse treatment and addiction.

As described in Narconon’s Wikipedia entry, Narconon facilities are known not only for attempting to win over new converts to Scientology, but also for treating all substance abuse addictions with a rather bizarre cocktail consisting mainly of vitamins and long hours in extremely hot saunas. Their Wiki entry documents multiple cases of accidental deaths at Narconon facilities, where some addicts reportedly died from overdoses of vitamins or neglect.

A LUCRATIVE RACKET

Bryan Seely, a security expert who has written extensively about the use of fake search listings to conduct online bait-and-switch scams, said the purpose of sites like those that Seorehabs pays people to create is to funnel calls to a handful of switchboards that then sell the leads to rehab centers that have agreed to pay for them. Many rehab facilities will pay hundreds of dollars for leads that may ultimately lead to a new patient. After all, Seely said, some facilities can then turn around and bill insurance providers for thousands of dollars per patient.

Perhaps best known for a stunt in which he used fake Google Maps listings to intercept calls destined for the FBI and U.S. Secret Service, Seely has learned a thing or two about this industry: Until 2011, he worked for an SEO firm that helped to develop and spread some of the same fake online reviews that he is now helping to clean up.

“Mr. Harvey and TopSeek are crowdsourcing the data input for these fake rehab centers,” Seely said. “The phone numbers all go to just a few dedicated call centers, and it’s not hard to see why. The money is good in this game. He sells a call for $50-$100 at a minimum, and the call center then tries to sell that lead to a treatment facility that has agreed to buy leads. Each lead can be worth $5,000 to $10,000 for a patient who has good health insurance and signs up.”

This graph illustrates what happens when someone calls one of these Seorehabs listings. Source: Bryan Seely.

Many of the listings created by Seorehab assistants are tied to fake Google Maps entries that include phony reviews for bogus treatment centers. In the event those listings get suspended by Google, Seorehab offers detailed instructions on how assistants can delete and re-submit listings.

Assistants also can earn extra money writing fake, glowing reviews of the treatment centers:

Below are some of the plainly bogus reviews and listings created in the last month that pimp the various treatment center names and Web sites provided by Seorehabs. It is not difficult to find dozens of other examples of people who claim to have been at multiple Seorehab-promoted centers scattered across the country. For example, “Gloria Gonzalez” supposedly has been treated at no fewer than seven Seorehab-marketed detox locations in five states, penning each review just in the last month:

A reviewer using the name “Tedi Spicer” also promoted at least seven separate rehab centers across the United States in the past month. Getting treated at so many far-flung facilities in just the few months that the domains for these supposed rehab centers have been online would be an impressive feat:

Bring up any of the Web sites for these supposed rehab listings and you’ll notice they all include the same boilerplate text and graphic design. Aside from combing listings created by the reviewers paid to promote the sites, we can find other Seorehab listings just by searching the Web for chunks of text on the sites. Doing so reveals a long list (this is likely far from comprehensive) of domain names registered in the past few months that were all created with hidden registration details and registered via Godaddy.

Seely said he spent a few hours this week calling dozens of phone numbers tied to these rehab centers promoted by TopSeek, and created a spreadsheet documenting his work and results here (Google Sheets).

Seely said while he would never advocate such activity, TopSeek’s fake listings could end up costing Mr. Harvey plenty of money if someone figured out a way to either mass-report the listings as fraudulent or automate calls to the handful of hotlines tied to the listings.

“It would kill his business until he changes all the phone numbers tied to these fake listings, but if he had to do that he’d have to pay people to rebuild all the directories that link to these sites,” he said.

WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT FAKE ONLINE REVIEWS

Before doing business with a company you found online, don’t just pick the company that comes up at the top of search results on Google or any other search engine. Unfortunately, that generally guarantees little more than the company is good at marketing.

Take the time to research the companies you wish to hire before booking them for jobs or services — especially when it comes to big, expensive, and potentially risky services like drug rehab or moving companies. By the way, if you’re looking for a legitimate rehab facility, you could do worse than to start at rehabs.com, a legitimate rehab search engine.

It’s a good idea to get in the habit of verifying that the organization’s physical address, phone number and Web address shown in the search result match that of the landing page. If the phone numbers are different, use the contact number listed on the linked site.

Take the time to learn about the organization’s reputation online and in social media; if it has none (other than a Google Maps listing with all glowing, 5-star reviews), it’s probably fake. Search the Web for any public records tied to the business’ listed physical address, including articles of incorporation from the local secretary of state office online.

A search of the company’s domain name registration records can give you an idea of how long its Web site has been in business, as well as additional details about the the organization (although the ability to do this may soon be a thing of the past).

Seely said one surefire way to avoid these marketing shell games is to ask a simple question of the person who answers the phone in the online listing.

“Ask anyone on the phone what company they’re with,” Seely said. “Have them tell you, take their information and then call them back. If they aren’t forthcoming about who they are, they’re most likely a scam.”

In 2016, Seely published a book on Amazon about the thriving and insanely lucrative underground business of fake online reviews. He’s agreed to let KrebsOnSecurity republish the entire e-book, which is available for free at this link (PDF).

“This is literally the worst book ever written about Google Maps fraud,” Seely said. “It’s also the best. Is it still a niche if I’m the only one here? The more people who read it, the better.”