Let's bring back Friday poetry from its holiday hiatus with this superb "there is no they" bit from Ciaran Carson:
Let's bring back Friday poetry from its holiday hiatus with this superb "there is no they" bit from Ciaran Carson:
"Save us from saviours" is the piercing refrain of a growing human rights movement demanding that sex workers be recognised as more than victims to be rescued or strategic populations to be targeted for public health campaigns. It's likely to strike a nerve among some in the traditional aid and development industry, often criticised for top-down, paternalistic projects.
"Sex workers are discriminated against and their human rights unrecognised around the world, even where sex work isn't illegal," says Nadia van der Linde, co-ordinator of the Red Umbrella Fund, the first global grant-making mechanism set up to give sex workers more control of projects that directly concern them. "Even when they stand up for themselves, it's very hard for them to find support."
The fund, which was launched in April 2012, and will announce this month who will receive its first grants, grew out of a multi-year collaboration between sex worker organisations and interested donors, who first met five years ago to discuss campaigns to curb human trafficking.
Embracing a philosophy of "nothing for us without us", the innovative fund is governed by sex workers, who sit alongside donor representatives on the committees that oversee and manage its work.
More of this, please. When I've mentioned that movements for social change often flounder because of a lack of attention to infrastructure, the lack of things like the Red Umbrella Fund are exactly what I mean. Movements need resources, but that's traditionally an area that would-be activists don't think about. Witness Occupy, for example, which often had no idea to handle the funds it received, and ended up with horrors like meth fiends in control of finance.
That's what happens when an organization, whatever its philosophy, doesn't think about, well, organization. Shepherding resources carefully is even more important for the causes of the poor or ignored, because they're less likely to have patrons capable of just shoving them suitcases full of cash. A lot of worthy causes flounder because no one pays attention to the details.
Furthermore, structuring the organization carefully around access to those resources — instead of treating them like an afterthought — helps to increase the power of the populations who most need them. This looks like a promising model, and I hope to see more of it.
Welcome to 2013, readers. Here's a quick parcel of "may you live in interesting times" items to start off your new year.
• Greeks feel unfolding social and humanitarian crisis "There is an anger against the national government which hasn't yet expressed itself, and it's building up like water behind a dam, waiting to break out. They're going to start smashing shop windows and grabbing things, and ultimately I wouldn't put it past the Greek society to storm parliament."
• Tea estate owner, wife killed by workers in India The article refers to what was going on as a "labor dispute," but dispute seems too mild a word for "an army of 700 workers gets together, armed with bows and poison arrows, and set the plantation owners on fire."
• Slavery's global comeback A brutal piece about how slavery's made a return around the globe (and in many places, never went away). A reminder that even as the future rolls in, many of the past's horrors are still very much with us.
• "Arrest us all" As the protests — some violent — in India have drawn attention to the horrific levels of rape in that country, this is not a new problem. In 2005, a mob of 200 women marched into the Nagpur district court and brutally killed a serial rapist that the police had let go scot-free for years.
Worth remembering that when a justice system fails widely enough in its duty to mete out vengeance, people will eventually start doing the job themselves. While I personally think the women in Nagpur were completely justified to kill their tormentor, vigilantism gets real nasty when it becomes increasingly endemic.
• Interfaith unions on the rise in UK Marriages between Muslims and Christians are becoming more frequent in the UK. Remember this the next time someone tells you that Muslims — apparently uniquely among all types of immigrants — are all fanatics who won't ever change in response to a secular society.
• China removing addicts' pleasure centers In the next stage in China's march towards dystopia, some doctors are "treating" drug addiction by burning out the pleasure centers of addicts and the mentally ill. As if that wasn't enough, China's also ramping up its internet censorship. Malevolent robot overseers are probably just a few months away.
An interesting War Nerd piece argues that once again, the U.N. and the array of NGOs in Africa have stopped a "Tutsi Empire" from developing and that this is, in fact, a bad thing:
The real bad guys in the Congo are what most people call the good guys, the meddling fools like Bono and the UN and all those NGOs and “International Peacekeeping Missions.” Those guys stopped a decisive war of conquest dead in its tracks. And yeah, that is a bad thing. A very bad thing. If they hadn’t stopped the natural course of the war, Central Africa would be a single state, maybe not as dead calm as an American suburb but as peaceful as, say, any region of the Roman or Mongol Empires—and remember, under the Mongols, travelers could ride from Tbilisi to Baikal without fear of robbery.
To show you what I mean, imagine that there’d been a United Nations, a lot of NGOs, and a noisy meddlesome “international community” to barge in when we were starting our Civil War in 1861. How would the Civil War have ended? Simple: it wouldn’t have. The “peacekeepers” would have intervened exactly when one side was starting to win—say, the summer of 1863—to freeze the two sides in position, “halt the killing,” and encourage a stalemate that left everything up in the air.
I can almost see the headlines and the photos that would hit the media if Sherman had started out on his march through Georgia in our time: “Refugees Flee Blue Advance,” “Thousands Starving,” and plenty of pictures of skinny towhead Dixie kids looking scared, with pillars of smoke from burning barns in the background.
As usual with his columns, it makes for interesting, pitch-black reading and has some pretty devastating analysis. I think a Tutsi Empire is a bit far-fetched, but his basic point is right. In fact, there's an even more clear-cut example to the north, in Rwanda.
There, Paul Kagame leads a regime founded by the army that actually ended the '90s genocide through the innovative solution of shooting the people committing it until they stopped. In the ensuing years, Rwanda's gone from a post-apocalyptic wasteland to one of the most stable countries on the continent.
Kagame's also engaged in relatively good government, encouraging a wrenching but necessary reconciliation, offering amnesty and rebuilding the society in a way that is slowly breaking the ethnic divisions that plagued it before.
He gets a lot of credit for that, rightly, even from the "do-gooders" the War Nerd column blasts.
At the same time, Kagame's relentlessly gone after the remnants of the genocidaires that slaughtered over a million people. These have included wiping them out even if they're hiding in refugee camps that the UN stupidly set up to give them cover (after neglecting to do a damn thing to stop the original genocide).
For this last part, he's gotten tut-tutting from lots of international institutions and worries that he's being authoritarian.
In fact, it makes perfect sense. Kagame's executing a classic "hand and fist" strategy. His country has a nasty ethnic division, and going after every Hutu that participated in the genocide isn't possible. All-out revenge, appealing as it may be, would just cause a repeat of the same scenario.
At the same time, he has to make damn sure that genocide doesn't happen again because the same leaders who committed it the first time build up their own army and undo all that hard-won stability. That requires crushing them. If that means intervening in the politics of the Congo, so be it. National sovereignty's always been more honored in the breach, anyway.
Instead of some regrettable deviation, this is the exact sort of politics war-torn regions need more of: neither bloodthirsty or endemically weak.
To keep the Civil War analogy going, it's a lot like Lincoln signing off on both "let 'em up easy" and Sherman's march. "Take this amnesty" gets way more appealing when followed up with "or we'll keep shooting you." To use a negotiated truce as an example, it's doubtful we'd have peace in Northern Ireland if the IRA hadn't shown they could bring London's financial center to a screaming halt.
Sometimes NGOs and even the UN do good work in an area. If peacekeepers are putting an exclamation point on an existing, stable deal, for example, they can actually be effective (the fact they're not usually used this way partly accounts for their horrific record). But in this situation, the colonial mentality is alive and well: what Kagame's done is nothing out of the ordinary for any sane government, and would be quickly recognized as such if he wasn't leading an African nation.
"We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another, unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made of layers, cells, constellations." - Anais Nin
(A tip o' the hat to Emma Alvarez Gibson for this one)
by Damien Williams, a follow-up to Life in the so-called space age
Come close and I'll tell you a secret.
The Breaking Time is really just the continual state of the post-Lapsarian condition. Everything we are and everything we do is a result of the Fall of Man, and that Fall makes itself evident in everything we ourselves create. All decay, all rot, all moral failures and lawlessness, all attempts by mad to trespass into God's domain with works like artificial intelligence, artificial life, and genetic manipulation are just the side-effects of humanity's experience and expression of evil; today is God's Judgment.
This is what I would tell you if I were a fundamentalist Christian-- that we are all sinful in some basic fashion (because of some basic action), and that nature has infected everything we do. But I'm not a fundamentalist Christian, so let's try something else.
The Breaking Time is just the precursor to the coming of the Messiah, and the fulfilling of YHVH's ultimate covenant with Man. We must strive through, as best we can but also spur on progress toward the time when this Messiah will make itself known. As such, we tolerate lawlessness, immorality, and decay, as we know that it will bring us closer to the time of Messianic Fruition.
No? Okay, how about this:
That which we call "evil" is really just the effect of the workings of evolutionary biological processes, selfishness, procreative need, tribalism, and the insular nature of the preferred size of human social groups. The only thing that exists which can rightly be called "evil" are those forces of ignorance which lead us away from inquiry and scientific understanding, and those forces must, indeed, be stamped out and shown as false, broken, harmful, and dangerous, at all costs. Only then will the true nature of the universe be able to be known, free of antiquated moralising and repression.
What about this: The return of Maitreya has meant that there will be a world-wide awakening of consciousness, and His work must be helped along by those willing to make the world over in fire, and who are willing to do whatever it takes to survive these end times.
Coilhouse commanders Nadya Lev and Meredith Yayanos. Image by Star St. Germain.
Last Wednesday, Coilhouse, "a love letter to alternative culture" magazine and blog near to my heart, announced an indefinite hiatus. Nadya Lev and Meredith Yayanos have both been struggling with health issues and "in its current form, Coilhouse is not financially solvent."
Yeah, I teared up.
For five years the Coilhouse crew produced one of the most beautiful, unique creations to grace the ever-evolving media landscape. If you're interested in alternative culture or simply love good writing, check out some of their greatest hits. There's a few of my pieces in there, along with a lot of incredible writers grappling just about every subject under the sun. Their amazing print issues are also available as free pdfs.
My final piece, a personal take on alt culture's relentless spirit ended up being the last before their farewell, something for which I'm honored beyond words.
Coilhouse gave me a chance when I'd not had much published outside of local reporting. They were willing to say things like "hell yeah we'll give you a column on deviant sci-fi!" which, believe me, is not something a writer hears very often. They pushed me hard, with honesty and respect, to expand my perspective while improving my craft. I was far from the only one.
Thank you, Nadya, Mer, and everyone else involved. You've already made the world a better place. I thank Coilhouse for how it's helped all of us who came in contact with it, and I look forward to its revival.
The other evening, I was visiting my friend David Gray (who designed our logo) and we stumbled upon one of those terrible documentaries on the Pyramids that channels ostensibly devoted to learning regularly churn out.
Inevitably, these documentaries bribe a good actor to lend their authoritative voice to narrating a torrent of pseudoscience, coincidence and insinuated bullshit that basically boils down to "humans with such simple tools couldn't possibly have built such wonders! It must be aliens!"
I've always found these documentaries particularly loathsome because of how badly they underrate human capability. At their heart is the same insulting assumption as the "nobles must have written Shakespeare" tripe: poor or primitive people can't possibly create amazing things.
David, who expected a more historical look at the topic, grumbled and turned it off. Within minutes, he found this:
That's Kelvin Doe, a 15-year-old from Sierra Leone who's built his own batteries and transmitters from pieces he salvaged from the trash. He's even founded his own damn radio station.
Awed, we watched for a while, before David finally spoke.
"And that," he said. "is why we can build the f'ing pyramids."
Now things get interesting — and complicated. An excellent map by Chris Howard
Longtime readers will know of my absolute loathing for the surprisingly enduring Red State/Blue State meme. It's a dangerously simplistic way of looking at what's a much more varied body politic.
Enter this map from Chris Howard, which not only divides votes in the last election by county and shades them on a spectrum of red and blue to represent margin of victory, but also shades denser counties darker, showing clusters of support. It's one of the best representations of the actual political divides out there, especially the urban/rural divide.
There's been a lot of talk over the role of urban voters in securing Obama's re-election. Emily Badger, writing for The Atlantic Cities site, posits that the same density shown on the map "requires a different kind of politics."
Perhaps, but it's worth noting here that one of the biggest on-the-ground political fights in cities, especially ostensibly leftists strongholds, is over density itself.
From the Bay Area to D.C., the battles continue, especially as plenty of planners diagnose a multitude of restrictions on density as a major reason why many desirable urban areas have costs-of-living that make it difficult for the working class to scrape by.
There's an error in thinking of political idelogies as running neatly along a spectrum. They're more like galaxies, with diverse systems of thought coalescing around a common core, especially when a bigger enemy is around. Populations that may vote the same way in national elections regularly engage in brutal fights over whether tall buildings are allowed in their neck of the woods.
In this case, density advocates place a higher priority on the need for more affordable housing and a form of infrastructure they see as more sustainable, while seeing communities as flexible entities that can accommodate changing populations. They tend to place more trust in numbers and urban planning types to shape future growth.
Neighborhood activists, meanwhile, see established local character and the ability to veto developments that might change it as more important than increasing the housing stock, perceiving community identity as more fragile than their opponents. They tend to trust local activists and small "d" democracy over planners and studies.
This fight can get extremely nasty once disagreements about centralization, visceral feelings of territory and class divides enter the mix.
Back in 2010, I wrote at length about Asheville's version of this struggle, and the pattern repeats itself in other liberal havens too. Ostensibly, the progressives on either side value both affordable housing and neighborhood character.
But in reality cities can have large amounts of new development of the type density advocates want or they can have every new building finely tuned to fit in with the existing neighborhood. They can not have both, so this fight rages on.
If the aftermath of 2012's political battles shows a growing urban electorate shaped by the perspective of density, and if shifting political realignments put those voters up for grabs, expect this war to gain national prominence.