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Friday, May 10, 2002
two from the wsj today

In Impoverished Niger, Radio Provides
Missing Links in Chain of Development


AMATALTAL, Niger -- "Hello."

The word floated on the desert airwaves to the Tuareg herdsmen, as mysterious and alluring as a mirage. In their flowing blue robes and turbans, swords dangling at their sides, the men strained to hear more.

"You are listening to Radio Afalla," came next in their Tamachek language. "This is your radio station."

These first words over the Tuaregs' radios originated in a two-room mud-brick hut on the edge of this Sahara village. Outside, a red-and-white antenna jutted some 70 feet above the parched earth, the tallest object for miles in this flat desert expanse of sand and sparse, spindly scrub. Solar panels powered a car battery linked by wires to a compact console of two tape players, two compact-disc players and one microphone. Many of the radio receivers the Tuaregs cradled to their ears were hand-crank models or secondhand transistorized relics from the 1960s.

This is a far cry from the digital technology that connects other parts of the world. But in a country of staggering poverty -- 80% adult illiteracy, 45-year life expectancy, and pockets where 40% of the children die before the age of five -- progress is coming not on the wings of 21st-century inventions but through a discovery from the 19th.

"With radio, we are getting to know the world," says Radio Afalla broadcaster Adam Habiboun outside the studio, which went on the air in March. Camels and donkeys meander past on their way to a nearby watering hole.

About 40 community stations have blossomed in the Niger desert after a recent rainfall of funding from an array of aid organizations. The local DJs are nomads and desert dwellers themselves. Music is only the background to the childbirth advice, vaccination updates, sanitation instruction, farming tips, candid talk on AIDS, and the occasional all-points-bulletin for lost camels.

"We have learned how we should wash utensils before cooking, clean the area where we eat and prepare food, cover the food with cloth to keep the flies away," says Essa Hassana, who is sitting with three other women in the village of Ingall, 100 miles farther north into the desert. Ingall's simple studio struggles to hold back the Sahara. Sand covers the floor, and lizards seeking shade scamper up the walls.

"As soon as a child gets an illness that can be spread, the radio puts out the information," says Zeinou Sami, another of the women. "Now we have fewer epidemics than before. Fewer children are dying."

Such progress has often eluded this harsh country, which is one of the world's poorest patches. The relics of many high-minded, high-tech development projects litter Niger like the dinosaur bones occasionally discovered beneath the shifting sands. Sophisticated irrigation systems that work well with First World maintenance turned into rusted pipes in Niger. The European cows that were supposed to improve milk production keeled over in the heat. Computers that launch villages elsewhere into cyberspace were grounded here, awaiting spare parts and support know-how -- not to mention electricity and telephone connections in a country with only 18,000 telephone lines for 11 million people.

Digging through these ruins, development experts from the United Nations, the World Bank and a host of aid organizations have discovered what their critics suspected for years: Rarely had anyone asked the villagers of Niger what they needed and what would work in their merciless environment. More rarely still did anyone put the locals in charge and leave the project in their hands.

"In the past, people weren't hearing each other," says Geoffrey Bergen, who taught English in Niger as a Peace Corps worker and now is the World Bank's country manager here. "We came to the point that we knew we had to listen better."

Radio "is the missing link in the development chain," says Steven Ursino, director of the United Nations Development Program, or UNDP, in Niger. With its manageable, cheap technology, it goes to places the Internet can't, beyond the reach of electricity and telephones. It demands the participation of the villagers and can become the soul of a community. Above all, it stimulates communication in the local languages that is vital in attacking problems such as AIDS. "It gives the people a voice," Mr. Ursino says.

After Sept. 11, the stakes are higher to get things right and show progress in development. From the White House and the World Bank and the U.N. have come pledges to extend the war on terrorism to a war on global poverty and the instability it breeds.

Niger, where shortages of medical supplies sometimes mean hospital patients must bring their own material for sutures, figures it should be on the front line. "If they are serious about what they are saying, then they should support us," says Hadiza Hima, the secretary general of the Ministry of Education, which is battling the world's worst literacy rate. "Every five years we hear new commitments, but nothing is done."

According to the UNDP's Human Development Report, which ranks the well-being of the world's countries, Niger is one place from the bottom, ahead of Sierra Leone, a fellow West African nation that has been mutilated by civil war. By some standards, Niger is worse off now than 20 years ago. Demand for its uranium has shrunk and two coups in the 1990s crippled government services. International development aid dropped to about $190 million last year from $270 million in 1990.

For the past two years, though, the country has been peaceful, with an elected government pledging to decentralize its operations and spread development aid around the country to quell discontent. This has prompted an increase in foreign aid and encouraged agencies such as the World Bank and the United Nations Children's Fund to intensify their consultations with the rural communities. And this, in turn, is allowing village radio to take hold in the sand.

Cautious Embrace

The Niger government, a new convert to rural development, has cautiously embraced the radio network. At last month's inauguration of four stations, including the one in Amataltal, Aboubakar Souley, the secretary general of the Ministry of Transportation and Communication, told the villagers that the station is not to broadcast politics or religion. "For once you start with that," he says, "you divide the population and then you can't use the radio for development anymore." The stations are members of a self-regulatory body that promotes broadcasting ethics and adherence to the no-politics code.

This concern that the stations could become propaganda conduits reflects Niger's position at the confluence of poverty, religion and geopolitics. It shares vast borders with Libya and Algeria to the north and Nigeria to the south. Sharia, or Islamic law, has been implemented in parts of northern Nigeria, and the Niger government is trying to keep it from moving farther north.

Although more than 90% of Niger's population is Muslim, the government is secular and insists it won't brook any extremist movements. The country's leaders turned up at the U.S. Embassy after Sept. 11 to condemn the terrorist attacks in America. But so did a letter from two Islamic organizations, warning Washington of a jihad should Osama bin Laden or Afghanistan be attacked. The government immediately dissolved both organizations.

"Poverty is connected to everything," says Amirou Garba Sidikou, secretary general of the Council of Traditional Chiefs, local leaders who hold considerable sway over village life. "We are a tolerant Muslim country. But people who are poor will do anything."

In Amataltal, Arahmat Koutchan leads the way into the Radio Afalla station, which is festooned with decals of two of its main donors: the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S.-based Africare.

"This is our future, and I'm very optimistic," she says. She is the director of the station and proudly shows off the new mud-brick studio to a caravan of representatives from aid agencies and embassies who have come for the inauguration. "Education, health, food, child care, news," she says, ticking off the subjects featured during the six-and-half hours of daily airtime.

Djilali Benamrane, a UNDP economist in Niger, hears this and thinks back to the origins of the first station three years ago. He was assessing a food shortage in the town of Bankilare when he heard a strange request from villagers. "I was talking with a group of women, asking them what help they needed, and they started laughing," he recalls. "They thought it would be impossible, but they said they were dreaming of the day they could have a radio station, not so they could be in touch with Paris or Niamey, Niger's capital, but to be in contact with the neighboring villages."

Months later, with UNDP funding and the simple technology provided by the African Center of Meteorological Applications for Development based in Niamey, their dream became the model for rural radio in Niger. Other groups have signed on to fund the stations, forming a broad coalition that includes various U.N. agencies and the World Bank, aid organizations such as Africare and Helen Keller International, and foreign governments such as the U.S., France and Switzerland.

The stations cost about $15,000 each to equip and build. Fueled by solar power, they are cheap to operate and maintain. Each station has about a dozen workers -- broadcasters and technicians -- who are volunteers from the local communities. Once trained, they then train others. The goal of the development agencies is to have a network of 160 stations, each with a broadcast radius of about 20 miles, by the end of 2004.

On the Air

The Amataltal station was on the air after five months of work, with the community pitching in on construction and set-up. On a clear morning last month, the villagers gathered for the official inauguration. They came on camel and donkey and foot. The Tuareg men in their blue robes formed a reception line that looked like a flowing stream. The women, in colorful gowns, sat astride decorated donkeys or sang and played bongo drums. The children gathered at their feet. The village chief, Akanamwa Hosseini, had ordered up a feast of roast lamb, noodles and camel cheese.

"This is the first time we have ever had radio that we can understand," Mr. Hosseini said. On the rare days when the national signal from Niamey, 600 miles to the south, would float their way, it came in languages foreign to the local residents, he said: "Now people around here are forming listening clubs, where they share a radio, to listen and discuss. We even get feedback."

Already, the chief said, people are asking for more overseas news shows, such as Voice of America, broadcast in the local language and picked up by the World Space satellite receiver that comes as part of the radio station. And, he said, people are already planning to set up businesses around the station, such as vegetable-drying ovens and millet grinders.

Throughout the country, activity is stirring beneath the red-and-white antennas. In Dogondoutchi, Aichatou Garba sat in the sand holding a pan over a fire, a battered red plastic radio at her side. She said she was inspired to start a small business after listening to programs about what women in other villages were doing. She was making millet pancakes to sell in the market. "The radio says it is important to have high quality and good presentation," she noted.

In Ingall, a town of about 6,000 people, dozens of listening clubs have formed around the radios. Programs on AIDS and the health perils of early childbirth spark freewheeling discussions. And they unify the community on important days, as when a vaccination team comes to town. Before radio, vaccination schedules were unreliably passed on by word of mouth. "Now, we know exactly when they are coming, because the radio follows them from house to house. We can make sure we are present," says Ms. Hassana. A radio reporter even tapes this conversation with a beat-up recorder, for broadcast later in the day.

One of the first stations, the "voice of the youth" of Niamey, was built in a ramshackle neighborhood beyond the capital's Embassy Row. Radio Goudel has since become the hub of the network. Here, much of the programming on development issues provided by the aid organizations is translated into the nine main languages of the country and recorded on tape, as are talk shows. These tapes are then dispatched to the other stations when someone is heading in their direction.

At Radio Goudel, the digital divide between Niger and the developed world opens wide. In one room of the station, several computers are covered by plastic sheets, rendered useless by a lack of spare parts. In the next room, technicians from stations around the country learn how to repair the simple wind-up radios from the Freeplay Foundation of London, which is mainly funded by the Freeplay Energy Group, maker of the self-powered products. The radios have a mainspring that drives a small generator as it unwinds, and some also have a small solar panel.

The caravan of aid officials that visited Amataltal pulls into the remote mountain oasis of El Meki and is greeted by an honor guard of Tuaregs on camels. There are no marked roads, or even any local cars. But there is now a radio station, and it is becoming the center of village life. Often, one of the broadcasters wanders into the primary school to record what is going on in the classrooms. Currently, only about one-third of the village children go to school; the rest are out tending goats or cattle, hauling water or foraging for food.

"Radio is the best promotion ever for school. The children sing and joke and explain to other children listening why they should also go to school," says the principal, Abdube Adamou. "I'm expecting many more students to sign up once we begin classes again in the fall."

In the dusty expanse between the school and the station, a Tuareg sits in the shade of a tree, a sword across his lap and an ear cocked to an old transistor radio.

What is he listening to?

"It's a health program," says Ekawel Ibrahim, who, at 43, is pushing the envelope on life expectancy here. "It's about precautions for keeping the drinking water clean."

Is he learning anything new?

"If I wasn't," he says, "I would turn it off."

Write to Roger Thurow at

'Alternativniks' Challenge
Russia's Conscript Army


NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia -- Twenty orderlies working in a hospital in this Volga River city have become poster boys in a campaign to reform Russia's demoralized military. They mop floors, empty bed pans -- and threaten the way Russia has raised and run its army since it beat back Napoleon in 1812.

For centuries, Russia has defended and expanded its borders with conscripts. Whether ruled by a czar, the Communist Party or President Vladimir Putin, Russia has made military service an obligation, not a profession.

Now, to the fury of Russia's generals, the hospital orderlies in Nizhny Novgorod have launched a bold challenge, seizing what, in theory at least, is a constitutional right to avoid bearing arms and seek alternative civilian service instead. In doing so, they have triggered an unprecedented public debate on the future of the armed forces.

"Killing is a sin," says Vladimir Korochkin, a 25-year-old who has refused a two-year stint in the army demanded of all Russian men and opted instead to work in Nizhny's First City Hospital, "I still want to serve my country. I do that by working here." A Seventh Day Adventist, he says his faith forbids him from taking up arms.

Although small in scale, this revolt against conscription has attracted nationwide publicity, with television stations and newspapers reporting on the stand taken by Mr. Korochkin and others. All the attention has given new momentum to what, with Russia's economy and politics changed beyond recognition since the Soviet Union, is now the last important frontier of reform.

Revered for liberating the Soviet Union from its Nazi invaders, the army was once the most visible outward symbol of Russia's claim to superpower status. But these days, its reputation is at an all-time low. With almost daily casualties in Chechnya, around one in 10 recruits dodges the draft.

Reformers have long demanded a humane alternative, and Mr. Putin has himself embraced the rhetoric -- though not yet the reality -- of military reform. He has called for an end to conscription and the creation of an all-volunteer army.

Resistance, though, is formidable. Mr. Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, also took up the cause of army reform, but left the Kremlin with little to show for a series of bold, but mostly stillborn, programs for change. Troop strength and defense spending were drastically cut back, but little was done to alter the way the army was constituted.

Russia's generals say that ditching the conscript system won't work unless salaries are raised to levels high enough to attract volunteers, meaning a huge increase in the military budget. Critics dismiss these arguments as a ploy and say the army is scared of reform that would shrink its size, prestige -- and perks.

Russia's top brass, for example, are notorious for using conscripts as free labor to build or repair their country cottages. Reform also threatens a lucrative system of corruption that allows officers to exempt would-be conscripts in return for bribes.

All Russian men aged between 18 and 27 are required to do army service, and around 400,000 men are drafted each year. But many go to great lengths to evade the call-up. Would-be recruits fork out hundreds of dollars for fake documents to prove they are college students, homosexuals, psychiatric patients or fathers of young children -- all of whom are exempt from army service. Some bribe members of their local military enlistment office to declare them unfit to fight.

"The generals don't want to do anything," says Boris Nemtsov, leader of the liberal SPS party. "But if we don't do something, we'll soon end up with no army at all."

The SPS has come up with its own reform plan, and is organizing nationwide rallies, pickets and petitions to promote it. Mr. Nemtsov predicts a grass-roots protest movement to rival the mass anti-Communist demonstrations of the late 1980s. "Unless society starts putting pressure on the bureaucrats, we'll never get things moving," he says.

Most flee service in the army not out of religious conviction but fear of widespread brutality. Mr. Nemtsov says 150,000 Russian soldiers have died of hazing since 1945. Cases of desertion and suicide are rife.

Russia's 1993 constitution guarantees the right to alternative civilian service, and legislation to give it force is now passing through the Russian parliament. But the government-sponsored bill sets the length of service at four years -- twice what an army conscript serves. Liberals say it is an attempt by the military hierarchy to stifle the idea at birth.

"A young man who works for four years as a hospital orderly can't study, start a family, or find work afterwards," says Mr. Nemtsov. "He'll be practically excluded from normal life. Four years will destroy the whole concept of alternative service."

Despairing of any meaningful reform, the authorities in Nizhny Novgorod decided to go it alone. Last year, the city's mayor, Yuri Lebedev, adopted a plan that allowed conscientious objectors to opt out of the army -- if they could convince local enlisters their pacifism was genuine.

It was a hard task. "The mood was very aggressive," says one of the "alternativniks," Vsevolod Kurepin. "The military accused us of being homosexuals, traitors and deserters." Of 34 applicants, only 20 were finally allowed to do social work. All of them have been working as orderlies in the First City Hospital since January.

They have proved a big hit with the staff. "These people are not draft dodgers," says head doctor Valery Lipatov. "They're doing the toughest work in the hospital. It'd be hard without them."

But the pilot plan has proven controversial. President Putin accused Mr. Lebedev of indulging in cheap populism. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said last month that such experiments are illegal until the law on alternative service is passed. The 20 alternativniks would all be drafted, he said.

Many of the men have already received their call-up papers. But all vow to continue the fight. Mr. Korochkin says he has been resisting army service for five years, and isn't going to stop now. "We're not anarchists," he says. "We're law-abiding citizens. We just don't want to spill blood."

Write to Guy Chazan at

[:: comment! :]

Thursday, May 9, 2002

(via sensible erection :)

That was interesting. What is cool? I say something's cool if I like it. So is that what's cool? I don't know. Cool is something that you allow yourself to do, and when trying is involved, sometimes it isn't the same. I'm happy to be thought of as cool, but I never was cool. Everyone thought I was this complete moron and complete dork for the majority of my school years. It's interesting, though: I was a loner kid who was very intense and serious and dorky and kind of nerdy and weird, but while I was given a hard time, I was never picked on the way other kids were. It's almost like there was sort of an unspoken kind of respect, of "You know what? We're just gonna let you be because you're doing your own thing." People didn't bother me. I mean, I did get picked on a lot in junior high, but I just dealt with it. I had my own little world where nothing could hurt me or bother me too much. I always had this place to return to. That's something I still have to this day, and it's just inside me. I guess people can find things like that in food, or in buying things and stuff like that, but if you can find it within yourself, you'll always be okay. So anyway, I was always drawing a lot, drawing comic books and other things, all the while always playing piano. I would play piano for hours each day, practicing my scales and other things we were working on. We'd have these recitals at the end of the year, but all the while, I was making up my own songs from very early on. That's real easy to do on piano, because you have so many different sounds you can get out of it. You have that sustain pedal, and you can make it sound like a big, echoey place. I thought that was the coolest thing when I first started playing piano: I remember banging away on it with that sustain pedal held down the whole time, because it sounded like it was in a huge cave. I ended up getting a digital keyboard, which was so amazing to me—excitement to the point of delirium. I would sit for hours and hours playing stuff. That was when I started recording. It would be real basic songs, and I would sing as I went along and make up the words as I went along. In junior high school, with this keyboard, I recorded a whole tape called The Mechanical Eyes. I drew this cover, and my mom and I went and made color Xeroxes. And this one guy who played guitar used to come over, and we'd play together, and we considered it a band, but the idea of playing shows was completely unheard of. Eventually, we did form a real band with a drummer. That progressed, and when we started high school, we played a few real shows at this amazing place, this Unitarian church basement. It was a whole big thing where all these mind-blowing bands played and really changed my life. Seeing these weird, crazy punk bands that I couldn't even believe existed. I don't really know how they were able to play at these... The shows didn't last long, because there was always a lot of violence, and stuff would get broken, and the police would always come. I never imagined something could be so loud, that there could be screaming like that, and that they could be making this intense noise. I can't even describe how exciting and important it was, and from that moment on, I just became obsessed with these bands around my town. They all quit or got kicked out of school and were living in their own house at 15, 16, or 17 without their parents. Just living, stealing whatever they needed. All their equipment was stolen from other bands. The whole thing was so intense, so violent, so chaotic. I would just hang around on the outskirts hoping they wouldn't yell at me and tell me to leave and make fun of me. Which they did, but I couldn't stop hanging around. There are so many stories. When I was 17 or 18, I had a buddy who lived downstairs in this basement apartment. He had windows right on sidewalk level, and we piled a bunch of speakers into his windows at night. We had a real PA system this time, and we'd turn it up to 10. We'd plug the keyboard in and I'd just tape down as many keys as I could with books and tape. We completely underestimated how loud it was going to be. People from five blocks away were coming out of their houses thinking it was Armageddon. Within minutes, it was surrounded by police cars. It sounded like a gas line was exploding. We ran in the back, and the whole apartment building had crowded around his door, pounding on his door. We ran to his door and said, "Oh, sorry, I don't know what that was," and shut it off, and then split up for half an hour. There were a lot of other things happening at this point. There was a lot of mail fraud, forgery, vandalism, lots of stealing money from jobs, lots of stealing from places, like going into a bookstore, stacking up 20 books, and just walking out. I was basically just doing bad things. I had worked really hard to graduate high school a year early, and I spent that last year making fake gift certificates and putting them in envelopes. I'd forge a cancellation over the stamp to make it look like it came from Los Angeles, and then I would send it to somebody I knew, hoping they would take the gift certificates and try to use them and get arrested. It was really intense and bizarre, very solitary, and not spending a lot of time with friends. I was very angry, and I didn't care what people thought of me. I didn't care if what I was doing was bad or hurting people's feelings. I would feel bad about it just enough to not do something so crazy that I would go to jail, although I got close so many times, and some of my friends did go to jail. My parents were very, very concerned. They only know probably about a quarter of the stuff I did. I ended up stopping all this stuff gradually, because all the while I really, really loved my parents, especially my mom. I didn't love her more, but she really expected things of me. I knew that I had disappointed her already. They had me seeing all these child psychologists, and were very concerned that I was crazy. I ended up stopping because I knew how disappointed she would be if she knew all the money I was stealing, and how the reason I would get fired from a job wasn't because they had too many employees. I didn't care what someone thought of me, only what she thought. That was enough to stop, and now, looking back, it was for myself, too. So I had the good fortune of learning my lesson in the 11th hour rather than in the 13th, so I could still make the right decision when it counted. There is still so much we're leaving out, but we could sum it up as being... The best description would be calculated, intensified chaos and a solitary existence, yet with many amazing people around that I consider my friends. Then I moved to New York, not knowing a single person there. Not knowing what I was going to do, but it felt like the culmination of everything, from the piano lessons to all the hours spent working on mindless things, to all the dangerous stuff, to all the bands, to all the music, to all the wide world of options that were always present. It was culminating into this growing sense that I was going to bear down and start doing something. I didn't know what it was going to be, but there was a sense that I had to start making the most of each day. Like, I don't want to be sitting down for a minute. I used to just walk around the city for hours, just because it was better than sitting at home. But I had very little money. There was a lot of walking 80 blocks to work so I could save a dollar. Cooking everything at home if I could, and stealing money at that point, too. But there was definitely this excitement in the air. There was this sense of, "Wow, what can I do today to make the absolute most of this day?" That continued on, and I was always recording and becoming more focused on making songs and playing piano. I had this broken 3-track that I brought with me from Michigan, and I was getting better and better recording on that. That's when I decided that I was going to put all my energy and time into one thing, just to see what would happen. I didn't have any one plan. I just wanted to have something I could do every day, so I decided to make the most exciting songs I can possibly make, and to do everything I can to serve them and further their existence, which included playing shows, recording songs, making flyers, anything. I saved up all my money and borrowed a bunch of money from my mom to buy a computer that I could record on, and just kept working. I was playing shows, and all I could do really was play keyboard. I could kind of play guitar at that point, but it clearly was not my ideal situation. My ideal situation would have been to be in a band, but I knew I could play a show. I would be frustrated out of my mind, but I'd say, "Don't be a wimp." I used to carry this card in my pocket that had a list of things that I would think of and try to hold in my mind. The first one was "Don't be a fucking wimp." That took care of almost every situation that I was in. If I was feeling depressed or whiny or discouraged, I'd pull that card out and say, "Don't be a fucking wimp!" That doesn't mean I'm not allowed to feel sad or have human emotions. But take a look around. Look at how good my life is. Don't be a fucking wimp! Snap out of it! Another one was "Never let down." Again, that's just to never stop trying. Life is too short. "Life is short," that was on there. This might be my one chance to do this, so aren't you going to make the most of it? It's better to regret what you've done than what you haven't. I say "No regrets" period now. No regrets, no guilt, no embarrassment, no shame. Another one was "You'll only live once," which is tied in with that. And "No fear" was huge. However, I've updated that, because it's impossible to have no fear. You'll always fear, but it's facing the fear. Someone who has no fear is not nearly as brave as someone who has fears and faces them. I believe everybody has fears, and to deny them is just putting up more walls. So all these things were just getting... The songs are what saw everything through. The shows I played were always like, if you had 50 people at the show, that was fantastic. That was a huge success. It was frustrating, though, because these songs were supposed to be played by a band. That's how I always envisioned it. I put ads in the paper to try and meet people, but that didn't work. Whenever I'd play a show, I'd talk to people, and I'd ask people on the street. If they looked cool, I'd say, "Do you play in a band, and would you want to?" That never really worked out. I ended up gradually meeting people who did help, and I'd make tapes and CDs of my songs and pass them out and put my phone number on them and just do everything I could. It eventually paid off with meeting people who helped me put together a band. I'm just so fortunate now to have this amazing band. I couldn't imagine a nicer bunch of people. They're kind, outgoing, hardworking, dedicated, responsible, smart... In every way, they are the perfect band. They're all at a point in their lives where they just want to do something the best they can, and know that the more they put into it, the more they'll get out of it. So I started recording in New York and continued in L.A., Michigan, Minnesota, and Florida. It was a lot of different people and a lot of different places, but all very necessary. There were a lot of engineers, and that's what we needed. The songs were good to go. We just needed all the best equipment and the systems to make them sound like they should sound. It was very work-intensive, to the point where some people didn't really enjoy working that way. It's very tedious and it involves fine-tuning and stacking, where you're looking at each song under a microscope and every split second is important. There are no coincidences. There's no accident, like, "Oh, wow, that was cool. Let's keep that." Every melody line is composed of like forty sounds combined. I did not want it to be the sound of a guitar and drums and bass playing. I wanted it to be the sound of the song playing, so you just hear one big, massive instrument just grinding out this song. You can imagine it sort of all coming from one enormous source, where you just hear an infinite expanse of a million things all happening in perfect unison, all laid out in front of you. We spent so much time so that you don't hear thousands of hours of work. That takes thousands of hours of work, I believe, to achieve that. It's like a movie: When you're watching a movie, you're not thinking of the millions of dollars and thousands of people and lights and every other thing happening to light that conversation scene in a bedroom. I wanted to make satisfying songs that did exactly what you wanted them to do and did it again and again, and just kept paying off. That didn't punch you in the face, but instead just gave you a big, firm handshake and a hug. Instant gratification. Also, living a solitary kind of existence and having been hassled by people that I didn't feel similar to... It's very interesting, because I know a lot of people who feel left out, so the first chance they get, they want to leave someone else out and perpetuate that feeling. The people who didn't like me or didn't want me around, I always wanted to bring those people in. I wanted to make something that they would want to be part of. I wanted to make something that would make them happy about me and themselves and us. That's one of the most important things here: that nobody is turned away and nobody is left out and nobody is judged based on how they look or what they like or what they don't like or even why they like it. There's no wrong reason to like my music. There's no wrong reason to like anything. This music is freedom. It allows anyone else the freedom to do whatever they want, and it accepts that unconditionally. And it continues to just want to make you happy. All you need to know is, "Do I feel this in my stomach? Is this running through my veins? Does this go up my spine? Does this blow my mind to pieces? Does this affect me?" That is real. That is physical evidence, and you don't need to even question it, or even understand. That's why I would never question why someone liked this or why someone's smiling or why someone is happy. It could be for one of a million reasons, some that people think I would think are bad or against me. Life's just way too short for me to qualify and quantify how this can make someone feel. Music, above all, is huge and magnificent and so much bigger than me or any one person. Someone says, "What if someone thinks you're just some kind of stupid joke?" And I say, "I don't care. I want to make them happy. If that makes them happy, if that's what puts a smile on their face, so be it." It's for everybody, for every reason. It's easy to get closed in. Somehow, for some reason, it's gotten cool to not have a passion about something. It's gotten cool to be distant and detached from things, to have a seen-it-all, done-it-all, been-there-done-that attitude about things. Which I only can attribute to the amount of information that's available and the things that are expected of people, and the way people are judged based on what they decide. No wonder people are tentative about believing in something: First, they're wondering if it's going to let them down, and second, they wonder what people are going to think of them. It's just human nature, but being passionate takes courage, and the more you believe in something, the less possibility it has of letting you down. The more you believe in it, the more it becomes your own. I just hope people have the strength to still give things a chance, and to say, "You know what? This isn't too good to be true. Maybe I haven't seen everything." It's easy to be overloaded sometimes, but I hope that we can look up to things in awe and not have to have everything at our feet. I hope that we can be amazed and excited and inspired by something without having to have everything figured out and put in our pocket. There's no one setting any limits on what you can enjoy, how you can enjoy it, why you should enjoy it, or what you should do except yourself. I look at what I have here as a miracle—that we're alive in the first place—and thank God for every breath I take, whoever He is or whatever it is. I'm doing this on behalf of everybody, on behalf of the thousands and thousands of people who've directly affected my life, on behalf of the millions that don't get a chance to do this, that don't have these things that I enjoy, that have to work just to get food. Even the saddest day is a miracle for me. When you have food, when you have a place to sleep, when you have friends and family and general health and safety, you have no right to complain. You're living life, and at that point it's up to you what you're going to do with it. Never concede this life, you know what I mean? I'm going to make all that I can of it for everyone else. This is not a return to the good old days. This is not a reaction to things that are bad now. It's not, "Things suck and we need to make them good again." This is forging ahead into uncharted territory. This is about working hard and inviting everybody into an unending, inexhaustible source of strength and energy. There's no rules, no limits, no, "Oh, you're giving too much of yourself away. You've got to take it easy." No! I'm doing fine! If we could make one person happy that day and I knew I could, why would I not do that? One guy in Europe asked me this question, and it was a really good question: "If you could change one thing in the whole world, what would it be?" And immediately, the first thing I thought of was to preserve all the forests and all the animals and all that. But then, that would cause a whole slew of problems. Imagine how that could backfire. Well, okay, at least I could wipe out poverty and hunger and disease. Well, again, you'd have huge population problems and more money problems created because of that. These huge ideas were just creating other huge challenges. All of a sudden, I just thought, "Well, you know what? If I could make a difference, or mean something, or change for the better the life of one person, especially a young person, even if it was just to make their day better... That is completely within my reach." It's within the reach of everybody to do something on a daily basis that helps anybody. Which makes somebody smile instead of frown. Which makes somebody feel better rather than worse. You know when you really like something, and you know that that thing you really love loves itself and loves you? It's a total bummer when you love something and go up to the person who's working on it, and you say, "God! This is so great! I love this so much!" And they're like, "Eh. Thanks, but it's no big deal." When someone comes up and tells me that they love the music, I yell, "Me, too!" And we just hug. It's that feeling that the people playing those songs are loving them just as much as you are while you're dancing, and that you could be up on that stage and playing those songs just as well. That is the point. The uncharted territory is that there is no line to be crossed. You don't have to hold back. This is our time. We have not lived and died yet. It has not all been done. It has not all been seen. I'm not religious. I never have been. My parents aren't, but we're not anti-religious, either. We were always just brought up with a very open understanding of who we were in a bigger picture. There was never any need to create a sense of guilt or shame. Oh, God. There's the other thing: No guilt! The idea of a guilty pleasure? That's as mixed-up to me as calling somebody a poseur. "You don't like this for the right reasons like I do." How awful. And the idea of, "I'm so ashamed for what I like." If you feel bad about liking something, then you don't really like it. Anyway, religion just puts up a bunch of walls that I don't need, but I have so much respect and admiration for those who have true passion and belief and dedication to having faith in something bigger than them, and look at it for inspiration. I have nothing against it, but at the same time, I think there's something to be wary of—for me, just in my opinion.
Andrew W.K. will perform May 13, 7 p.m. at Club Quattro in Nagoya, (052) 264-8211; May 14, 7 p.m. at Club Quattro in Shinsaibashi, Osaka, (06) 6281-8181 and May 15-16 at Club Quattro in Shibuya, Tokyo, (03) 5466-0777.

(via yakitori!)

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Wednesday, May 8, 2002

It all started with a simple search in Yahoo for "Enoch", which I inferred from my favorite band Tool, since they hang an Enochian style magic board as display when they play live (which I learned from an article/interview with Danny, the drummer, in Modern Drummer magazine) as well as the fact that Maynard (vocals) and Danny Carey (drums and a Freemason) are both practitioners of ritual magic and students of mystery religions. Well, Enoch, it seems, was an Old Testament figure and patriarch (pre-Great Flood), who lived 365 years, not generally canonized (included in the accepted Bible) and largely ignored by the Catholic Church due to his rumored skill and mysterious knowledge of the Zodiac and astrology, writing, advanced building techniques, and geometry, and most importantly to mystics, the preserver of ancient and sacred wisdom (Secrets). He is said to have given unto the people, before the flood, a wealth of secret wisdom known only to Angels and God, which later became linked to the Jewish Kabbalah system of Magic.
Well, I got curious, as any good little Lutheran boy would and wound up jumping from page to page for hours every day, soaking up what was hereto for a completely hidden world to me, i.e., the world of Gnosticism, Occult, Ancient religions, Christian Mysticism, paganism, Nazi religion etc... Wow. My anthropology professor would be proud (or intimidated?). [what makes us human]

declaration of independence (via boing boing)

The basic principles which inspire the Bill are linked to the basic guarantees of a state of law, such as:
  • Free access to public information by the citizen.
  • Permanence of public data.
  • Security of the State and citizens.
To guarantee the free access of citizens to public information, it is indispensable that the encoding of data is not tied to a single provider. The use of standard and open formats gives a guarantee of this free access, if necessary through the creation of compatible free software.
To guarantee the permanence of public data, it is necessary that the usability and maintenance of the software does not depend on the goodwill of the suppliers, or on the monopoly conditions imposed by them. For this reason the State needs systems the development of which can be guaranteed due to the availability of the source code.
To guarantee national security or the security of the State, it is indispensable to be able to rely on systems without elements which allow control from a distance or the undesired transmission of information to third parties. [slashdot thread]

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Tuesday, May 7, 2002
a cinematograph, darkly

Well, apart from a humorous sequence during which a character spends eternity having his sins read to him (it takes 11,000 years to get to his discovery of masturbation at age eleven). But like Fred/Arctor, Croghan also disbelieves her own advice: she looked to George Miller's Babe: Pig in the City (1998) and Alex Proyas's Dark City (1997) for inspiration.

the surrealism of everyday life

Most of Dick's Exegesis commentaries and papers are archived at the California State University in Fullerton. Librarian Sharon Perry takes us through the library stack to show the archival boxes of critical commentary, essays, biographical notes and letters. Duncan Watson tours several of Dick's haunts in Berkeley, including a police station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Web site founder Jason Koornick explains how Dick's influence has thrived on the Internet.

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Monday, May 6, 2002
dead man (via chireader)

A critical study of Jim Jarmusch's 1996 western, incorporating an extended interview with Jarmusch.

american splendor (via metafilter)

I wish more people knew about guys like Harvey Pekar. Not only a great comic book writer but also a music critic (comic at and even literary critic who happens to work as a file clerk.

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Friday, May 3, 2002

scrotal circumference (via plastic)

Two types of measuring tapes are commonly used for measuring scrotal circumference — a manual measuring tape and the Coulter spring-loaded tape, which contracts around the scrotum with a uniform tension. Scrotal circumference is measured by placing a measuring tape around the scrotum at the widest point (Figure 1). This measurement is an indirect estimate of the mass of testicular tissue, which is directly related to sperm quantity and quality. Studies of various breeds and ages of bulls indicate that as scrotal size increases, the probability of a bull passing a breeding soundness evaluation also increases. Additionally, bulls with small scrotal circumference at a year of age tend to have small scrotal circumference at two years of age.

arirang festival (via cheesedip)

Thousands of North Koreans have begun a two-month gymnastics and artistic festival to celebrate the birthday of the nation's founder, Kim Il-sung.

The usually secretive country has invited foreign tourists to attend the festivities, although it has sold few tickets.

North Korea, where about half of the population is believed to be malnourished, is desperate for hard currency.

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Thursday, May 2, 2002
pucca & garu (via dirtynerdluv)

hungry but scared (via boingboing)

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Wednesday, May 1, 2002
four poems in the title tag by david shapiro (here's two)

Desire Lines

I can see
I cannot see
Keats in surgery in the 19th century
I can see
I cannot see
Mars and Aphrodite
dancing in the net
while the gods played and laughed at
the castanet
I can see
I cannot see
Keats and Fanny
Allen Ginsberg in 1953
I can see
I cannot see
An adult
Is a raindrop
A raindrop
Is an adult
I can see
I cannot see
Lou Andreas Salome and
Friedrich Nietzsche
Mars and Botticelli
Keats and Fanny B
Allen and Peter Orlovsky
Elizabeth and "and"
I can see
I cannot see
An adult
Is just an instrument
A landscape pornography
That hill is a hole
I walk on desire lines
You walk on desire
I can see
I cannot see
[formatted really suckily :]

Song for Hannah Arendt

Out of being torn apart
comes art.

Out of being split in two
comes me and you. HA HA!

Out of being torn in three
comes a logical poetry. (She laughed but not at poetry.)

Out of the essential mistranslation
emerges an illegitimate nation.

Better she said the enraged
than the impotent slave sunk in the Bay.

Out of being split into thirteen parts
comes the eccentric knowledge of "hearts."

(Out of being torn at all
comes the poor-rich rhyme of not knowing, after all.)

And out of this war, of having fought
comes thinking, comes thought.

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a r c h i v e

w r i t t e n
get out
on violence
horror story
disney land
from earth
human matrix
crazy guy
future reference
bosco nought
US engagement

f r i e n d s

a b o u t m e