Friday, August 26, 2016

Burning Man's Glitzy BS? (i.e., all that glitters in the desert is not the fabled 'sharing economy')

(The following is a response to Burning Man Turns 30: the Joys, Pitfalls (and Drugs) of Hollywood's "Vacation for the Soul" , published in The Hollywood Reporter, 26 August 2016)

If Burners (Burning Man event participants) and Burning Man event organizers overlook the high price of an entry ticket ($390 to $1200), the mad desert blowout might then possibly be considered a ‘non-commercial’ arena. 

Does it take a special kind of enlightened soul to not see right through the astronomical entry fees? In other words, the event grounds can be legitimately non-commercial only if the event itself is free of cost (after expenses) -- yet, participants and organizers willingly overlook blatant profiteering from the get-go of purchasing a wildly overpriced entry ticket. Thereafter, they pretend to engage in a 'sharing economy' while frolicking with the fruits of the market economy that they bring along with them to erect an imaginary Elysium and play in it.

Can festival ravers possibly imagine that it marvelously appears out of non-commercial thin air including 'a half-million dollar sound-system' on a Playa (nickname of the dusty event grounds) shuttle bus, lavish costumes with nifty sequins and niftier body paint and glitter, camping/desert survival gear, decorated bicycles and requisite swank sunglasses, ice-chests filled with highly processed ‘health foods’ and stylish beverages like coconut water imported on gasoline fumes from halfway around an ailing globe (paradoxically, desert-stormers overlook inconvenient ‘carbon footprints’ in the parched sands for a week of indulgence while holding everyone else accountable the other 51 weeks). From waffles to building materials for temples and other structures erected magnificently where there were none…apparently, the loins of the gods opened up and shed extreme, albeit transient, favor on the sand-bitten spectacleabout as free of cost as it is free of environmental concerns.

Is overlooking ecology concerns and high-finance robbery a hidden charade that keeps Burners from the despair of a lethal cognitive dissonance? Hypocrisy is a pox that is desperately banished by chic flower children of the new millennium and their faddish predecessors from the sixties onward--even when that means burying heady egos deep into the sands of time. Nevertheless, the artifice that there is no cost because, well, you know, those fluffy waffles taste ‘super amazing!’ and the ‘super awesome!’ Elvis lookalike chefs gave them out liberally to all who showed up in (mandatory) hipster garb after passing through high-dollar entry gates (yep, gates and barriers that anywhere else are a riot-worthy no-no...yes, gates are apparently acceptable when they serve those who reckon them necessary for a diamond-studded bottom line). The gathering Hive Mind is shepherded through by a semi-clothed to buck-nude and perma-smiling "Welcome Home!" posse processing a vehicle lineup of exclusive ticket holders for up to a week's worth of the world's finest groupthink disguised as non-conformity en masse (imagine a week-long, outdoor TED talk inflated by steroids potent psychedelics and spiced up with various degrees of nudity and too-cool-for-school DJs). 

The expenses of carousing the Playa are presumed to be counterbalanced by one’s own 'giveaways'…except perish the thought, any thought of cost-analysis and payback reciprocity -- ledgers do not exist here (of course, organizers and ticket-takers exempted). Moreover, those who do not have anything to contribute are shunned. Yes, at this ephemeral utopia of 'peace and love', those who are presumed to have nothing en vogue to give are ostracized and judged as not worthy of the peacocky affair in the desert (revealing a haughty band of neo-hippies espousing a limited brand of neo-"peace and love"?).

Meanwhile, an extravagant lifestyle with posh campgrounds cum community playground is funded and supplied pre-arrival with pre-purchased, highly processed goods (yes, including goods picked up at so-called 'health food stores'), elitist gear and toys, etcetera — and because the expenses are incurred in distant markets before arrival, they are conveniently forgotten as the group fever for the so-called 'sharing economy' ignites.

If lusty BM colonialists truly want to believe in smarmy non-commercial ideals then dump nearly everything procured beforehand (and hauled in overloaded vehicles from sports utility vehicles to motor homes and even private aircraft). Enjoy nature without the rewards of commercialism, e.g., pricey foods and party enhancements stockpiled before the ‘non-commercial’ jubilee kicks off. 

Despite wishes to make it so, simply calling the event ‘commercial-free’ will not marvelously render Burning Man a 'sharing economy'. Otherwise, to begin to do so, for starters, attendees also might make a pilgrimage to Black Rock City (name of the conurbation that crops up at the event site otherwise known as Black Rock Desert) by self-propulsion (saving pilgrims the despair of using decried petrochemicals in the aforementioned petrol-guzzling vehicles with a massive carbon footprint tread-print or even skyward contrail for the airborne).

How long could this trendy mob of pretentious mother-huggers (and grandmother huggers) then live off the land before starving to death or dying of thirst? Could they gather under a billion stars at night and enjoy music created naturally without electricity, without posh sound systems and without instruments forged through a despised industrialization that they cannot escape no matter how they portray it all as an iconoclastic Promised Land…farcically labeled commercial-free? 

Is it asking too much for the wild-eyed participants to look beyond the molding-board thin fa├žade of a faux social paradise relying on free-market underpinnings? Dare the verboten word capitalism even be uttered-- capitalist underpinnings from transportation to and from airport hubs and on to the venue to keeping Burners well-dined and wined (and fuzzy brained), costumed, comfortable and entertained while there, all with a robust entry-ticket price tag?

If not, then call it an exercise in inconvenient duplicity. Meanwhile, the gala is growing in size and cost while paradoxically its downfall is decried by condescending, ageing Burners (who remarkably resemble current, cookie-cutter Burners -- the article's photo of Katy Perry reveals a swank outfit that could be that of every other female participant at this ironically nonconformist event). The downfall is partly blamed on Photoshop’d Instagram propaganda (and yes, the Amazon Studio exec's photo in the article is obviously enhanced to make it more dreamy despite a herd of sheeple milling in the background -- difficult to recognize chichi Katy Perry in a madding artistic gulag of similarly outfitted renegade nonconformists and professional wannabe hipsters. (Inconvenient irony, too?)

If only Trader Joes', Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Fresh & Easy et al participated in the merrymaking bonanza by supplying factory-processed munchies out of the goodness of their non-commercial hearts…then every hipster could reduce costs significantly and live happily trendy ever after…at least for that week of revelry while supplies held out at this fiery New Age potlatch.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Is aid killing Nepal?

The following is in response to Emily Troutman's 
First of all, many cheers to Troutman for the insightful coverage of the outrageous situation in Nepal.

Her piece sadly outlines major mistakes (in some cases willful conniving) of an aid industry motivated by high profits and high salaries with huge outlays of resources—the aid industry swooped in after the quakes and has irreversibly shaken Nepal by their mistakes (on top of decades of indefinite aid that has warped society).

The Nepali people by and large know that they are being conned or rather used while they continue to suffer chronic poverty and marginalization and other ill-effects up to the ultimate cost of death for the unwitting (to give them the benefit of the doubt) crimes of an aid cohort in collusion with a dysfunctional status quo.

The people are not blind to the malfeasance of the government and pampered, high-living, high-salaried aid entrepreneurs creating an aftershock of chaos Nepal. The aid industry and ruling class that they abet are benefiting off the weakened backs of a disenfranchised people who are basically on life-support.

It is astonishing that after a valid critique and pointing out massive complications and dilemmas in the aid industry, Troutman then offers a list of suggestions….namely suggestions for giving a green light to the continued aid boondoggle that she has just revealed. That is, she admits deep troubles (troubles that have caused a prolonged suffering, in some cases lethal suffering, for the people), but rather than shut it down, she suggests moving ahead after the fixes.

As far as I can tell, these suggestions are necessary but not implementable. They would require among other things
a) transparency top to bottom from aid agents on the ground up to the decision makers behind the scenes and all people along a tortuous chain of implementation from ideas to implementation
b) honest, Nepal-savvy aid agents and liaisons
c) trustworthy local counterparts and liaisons
d) omniscient oversight 

Without all of the above elements improbably in place, then intervention will not have a chance to be even remotely successful. In other words, the chances are still quite slim to nil given the difficulty in implementing the above, particularly proper oversight.
Even if possible, even under the best case scenario of all of suggestions neatly and cleanly in place (which is a long, long way off from a great proportion of groups trying to effect change in Nepal) aid would have to operate through a dysfunctional status quo to be allowed the permission to attempt to change her---this should be an immediate red flag and show-stopper—that is, going through the very dysfunctional status quo underlying the problems means that aid will itself be distorted no matter how well-intentioned it might be.

Perhaps this is the main concern and take away point that can neither be overlooked nor escaped while operating under a dysfunctional system: aid operates through the governing system no matter how dysfunctional and illegitimate.

That is, by working with and going through a dysfunctional system in order to be given permission to be operational, the aid industry takes an inescapable and unacceptable risk of being part and parcel of the very system causing the problems. Thereby the aid industry becomes associated with those prolonging a deathly suffering as they necessarily abet and collude with  (knowingly and most often unknowingly) the dysfunctional system that allows them to operate in Nepal.

As 2015 Nobel Prizewinner in Economic Sciences Angus Deaton points out:
“Aid undermines what poor people need most: an effective government that works with them for today and tomorrow.”

In other words, "Poverty is not a matter of experts, it's a matter of human rights", according to Economics Professor W. Easterly of New York University. Unfortunately, aid violates both ends of Easterly’s vital message. Aid sends in so called experts (curiously, many are illiterate about  local customs and language) and aid undermines human rights by working with the ruling gang  brutalizing it’s own people--a double whammy that goes against the very poverty that the aid industry is striving to eliminate. The local people are more than capable and talented enough to take care of their own needs and follow their own dreams--if given the chance.

With all due respect, I am a firm believer that the greatest and most important change and perhaps the only change that will ultimately start the momentum in the other direction is that the ruling class get out of the way, in other words, a change in governance. Anything short of that, anything else risks abetting and colluding with continued mal-governance causing the problems that aid attempts to solve. Anything less leads to more of the same and is harmful to the people under the yoke of unethical decision makers of the ruling class and a misguided aid paradigm… not to mention the devastating effects on a swiftly vanishing culture, too. 

I truly believe that the easiest (and paradoxically most difficult) answer might be extraordinarily simple. Would that these aid agents and think tanks simply quit Nepal--they up and left Nepal and Nepalis alone. As Troutman notes in her assessment, the signals are clear and present that quake aid has severe problems. Why isn’t the aid industry aware of and heeding the signals?

Although even if the outsiders did pull out and stop interfering (as Troutman keenly points out, intervening with scant knowledge of the issues, people, language, culture and society that they are attempting to alter), even so, the elite, entitled and empowered ruling class isn't about to cede any power. Still, at least a source of major external funding would dry up and that might be a watershed first step to make the ruling gangsters more answerable to internal forces and entities, namely the people, rather than external entities and forces.

Unfortunately, there is too much money and leverage already woven into the warp and weft of the fabric of the power structure, and the quakes have allowed unethical players to weave an even more entangling pattern. 

When I last was in Nepal in April 2016, it was the worst that I have ever seen it there--from the spirit and morale of the people to infrastructure, state of political and economic activities, the web of political and foreign entanglements and money grubbing interplay…widespread disasters--perhaps the country needs to totally bottom out before going the other direction –dismally, that would mean more deathly suffering as collateral damage to a long suffering, long-disenfranchised people).

The Nepalese people and culture are not forever immune...the cultural ethos may be soon lost if it hasn't been already--the 'bad guys' are winning big at this point which means the people are losing big...not a few of them their health and lives. 

As Economist Dambisa Moyo from Zambia cries out "Let my people go!" in reference to the indefinite aid paradigm that has decimated countries it has touched in Africa. Her data-driven books Dead Aid and How the West Was Lost outline the incriminating evidence.

At any rate, that's the looking glass through which I peer. Perhaps I am a pessimist-- that might be an entirely accurate label of my cloudy outlook. At least I hope to be somewhat of a realist, too. It is a pretty hard outlook regardless.

Cheers for considering this response that is perhaps too long winded—too impassioned about the effects of aid, corruption and exploitation on a country and people whom I love and admire.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Friday, August 12, 2016

An inconvenient overlooking while the USA has become an 'idiot's dream'?

Trump recently suggested that 'maybe the second amendment people could stop Hillary' (presumably from changing the makeup of the US Supreme Court if she were elected president of the USA).
Shocking if a threat, and he caught tremendous flak with the media while himself claiming it was only a statement about the united strength of a block of single-issue voters.

Threat or a call to unification of voters concerned over the second amendment, the videos below illustrate that prominent candidates (ironically, gun-control advocates) can be just as if not more duplicitous and inflammatory. The second amendment is unintentionally spotlighted by their ugly statements while they carelessly (and conveniently) overlook their vaunted gun-control advocacy.

Consider the following from Hillary Clinton in 2008:

And the following from Joe Biden in 2008:

...and John Kerry in 2004:

Unbelievably bizarre statements from so-called gun control advocates who smugly call out Trump as a dangerous, violent threat-maker--don't their words seem less ambiguous about violence than his do?

The following additional 'bonus' video of Democrat adviser Bob Beckel in 2010 regarding Julian Assange, founder and voice of Wikileaks:

Beckel's menacing threats might have turned eerily prophetic when Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered in the streets of Washington D.C. in early July 2016 after allegedly providing ruinous material to Wikileaks.

Are we living in an 'idiots dream'?

...more likely a lunatic's dream?

Still doubts about media coverage bias? 

More about gun control hypocrisy and military industrial psychosis at the following links: