Party Like It’s Star Wars [Updates]

Image: Sharara, via Facebook

Image: Sharara, via Facebook

Star Wars. Desert camping. Talks on topics aligned with Leave No Trace and Self Reliance. A nod to the Davos World Economic Forum. Sharara, Arabic for “spark”, has it all…

Sharara desert camp-out festival @ the Star Wars site in the Tunisian Sahara (inaugural edition 1-3 April 2017) has a ShararaTech call for submissions that is open till 31 March 2016 on Water, Energy and Self-Reliance around the Mediterranean. Burners are welcome to participate.

This solution-based festival and geography anchored event (Sharara which stands for “Spark” in Arabic) was conceived by a lady entrepreneur who was selected by Davos WEF in 2002 as a Young Arab Leader for her role in creating the first venture capital fund in the Arab part of the Middle East. As a burner she, Amal Alayan could see long back, Sharara as an answer to a question raised by the Guardian recently with the title “What would it look like if Davos and Burning Man would have a baby?”. For a snap shot of Tatooine where Sharara will take place, check out this link. Leonardo Journal of MIT Press, Sharara publishing partner, plans to publish a special section on artworks participating in this event.

It’s an Art and Science festival. No word on if there will be DJs, or drinking, or any other kind of partying. They’re looking for art and tech talks.

Their publishing partner is the Leonardo International Society of the Arts, Sciences and Technology. Your art might get featured in MIT Press’s Leonardo Journal, which would be a nice gift to give your friends patrons at Da Vinci’s Workshop. Well, it would be except that this event won’t actually happen until 2017.

Tune in to Tunis.

First, they get a Google guy going over there to launch a social media-fuelled series of revolutions, using technology developed at Burning Man. It all literally began with a spark and a burning man, when a Tunisian man set himself on fire to kick off the protests – which at their peak in Tunisia were generating 2200 tweets per day.

Next step? Time for an Arab “spark: a Burning Man-like story”. Something futuristic, the best of the West, at Star Wars no less. Followed up with a bunch of venture capital flowing into the startup sector.

They have some heavyweight counter-culture tech credit behind them, with promotion from the Buckminster Fuller Institute.

What would it look like if Burning Man and Davos had a baby? Maybe it’s Sha-ra-ra

Participate here.

Check  out their inspiration.

From sharara.tech

ShararaTech Art & Science Mediterranean Festival (also known as Sharara Art, Science and Technology Mediterranean Festival) is an emergent desert camp-out festival that aims to travel on paths around the Mediterranean to celebrate creativity-for-change at the intersection of art, humanities, science and technology.
 
For the inaugural edition of ShararaTech, ShararaTech Challenge on Water, Energy and Self-Reliance is launched with a focus on decentralized water and energy solutions.
 
The festival aims to host desert installations of artistic intrigue and scientific novelty that can evoke holistic insights into new solutions and practices for mitigating difficulties of living around the Mediterranean. ShararaTech sees change rooted in reconnecting with nature, in communal self-reliance, in fostering socially and ecologically responsible entrepreneurship, and in the circularity of gifting and financial support for the creative process. 
 
Whenever possible, ShararaTech aims to include installations that fuse art and technology with self-referential poetics, myths, symbols and universal ethos that defined the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean and its surroundings.
 
From the Sahara where Transmedia and Communications Technology arguably provided non-violent Arab Spring with the tools necessary to bring down hierarchical and centralized ways of organizing that did not work, ShararaTech will be launched. The aesthetics of these decentralizing tools remain essential to celebrate within such a creativity-for-change festival in order to maximize the potential of access to information, learning, corrective feedback loops, creative circularity and alternative modes of self-organizing. 
 
While remaining open for the participation of many forms of creative expressions at the convergence of art, science and nature, ShararaTech will organize thematically on annual basis in liaison with its affiliates.
 
In  “springing” out of the Tunisian Sahara in 2016 with artistic manifestations of water and energy decentralized generation, distribution and storage solutions, ShararaTech hopes to be part of triggering a constructive 3.0 Revolution with futuristic visionary ways of living and creating on and around the Mediterranean.
 
ShararaTech Challenge on Water, Energy and Self-Reliance is intended as a catalytic process for crowdsourcing content for the inaugural edition of ShararaTech Art & Science Mediterranean Festival. A Call for Submissions for this challenge includes incentives in the way of potential noteworthy publishing in Leonardo Journal of MIT Press. Furthermore, a first award of up to $50k will be split between two selected water and/or energy novel submissions: one with the best fit for the Tunisian Sahara and one for Gaza. 
 
The Founding Partner of ShararaTech is Ibtikar Venture Partners LLC. The Publishing Partner of ShararaTech Art Festical is Leonardo International Society of the Arts, Sciences and Technology.
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Who’s behind this? An MIT-backed startup fund with ties to big pharma, that front-runs deals for blue chip financial syndicates. At least, that’s what they say:
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Ibtikar Venture Partners, LLC (“Ibtikar”) was co-founded in May 1999 by Amal Alayan and Omar Khudari as a Delaware limited liability company with a main base in Lexington, MA. Ibtikar leveraged its founding members’ links to MIT and Route 128 and their operating experience in the Middle East in pioneering venture capital investing in the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA) and to syndicate its investments with blue chip businesses . Ibtikar made a number of early investments in Arab Internet start-ups when there were no more than 2M Internet users in MENA. In 2013 Ibtikar went through restructuring and a new member joined Ibtikar, Mohmmad Saffouri, a major shareholder of Al-Hikma, a leading MENA Pharmaceuticals company based out of Jordan. In 2013 Ibtikar sought, and on 25 September 2013 obtained, an approval from the Tunisian government on the organizing and the production of an international art, science and technology event in the Neck-of-the-Camel desert and in its adjacent George Lucas Star Wars Décor of Tatooine near Tozeur airport in the Tunisian Sahara. On 20 July 2015 the Tunisian newly elected government renewed this approval and confirmed its support.
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Leonardo/The International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology (Leonardo/ISAST) is a nonprofit organization that serves the global network of distinguished scholars, artists, scientists, researchers and thinkers through programs focused on interdisciplinary work, creative output and innovation. From its beginnings, Leonardo/ISAST has served as the virtual community for purposes of networking, resource-sharing, best practices, research and events in Art/Science/Technology.

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Leonardo serves as critical content provider through their Publications Program — scholarly journals published by MIT Press (Leonardo and LMJ), the Leonardo Book Series (MIT Press), as well as the Leonardo family of websites and experimental projects on evolving digital platforms.http://www.leonardo.info
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Just like Stanford has its non-profit Defense contractor SRI International, MIT has its non-profit Defense contractor the MITRE corp. Wonder if they are involved in any of these projects? Maybe some of Reagan’s Star Wars will be out there mixing it up with George Lucas’ Star Wars – if they weren’t from the very beginning, anyway…

 

Screenshot 2016-03-06 11.53.03

Ronald Reagan writing about Star Wars and Bohemian Grove.       From Reagan: A Life in Letters by Kiron K Skinner

 


[Update 3/8/16 7:51am]

A Balanced Perspective has pointed us to the Dunes Electroniques festival, a rave that was recently held at the Star Wars site in Tunisia. More than 1000 security personnel were employed. Here is a great write-up of the event.

Yesterday, the President of Tunisia declared the country a war zone, after skirmishes with ISIS on the Libyan border:

“The majority of Tunisians are now in a state of war against barbarism,” he said from the capital, Tunis.

 

[Update 3/9/16 9:24am]

Amal Alayan, event organizer, says the President was incorrect in his statement that the majority of Tunisians are now in a state of war, and in fact the clashes are only in one town at the border area.

the closing line about the president of Tunisia making an announce that the whole country is declared “war zone ” is not true and hurt the people of Tunisia who r the only people in the region who made Arab Spring succeed. I am in Tunisia now and know for a fact that the war zone is in one town on the east south borders with Libya . I am going Friday as a woman on my own to the west south were out Star Wars site is and will be sending u a photo .. I ran ur article by the ministry of tourism earlier today and on your quote if their president , they said “he was not referring to the whole country”

I’m not sure who to believe: the President of Tunisia, the Minister of Tourism, or the event promoter. YMMV.

Although Ben Gardene, where 48 people were killed in an ISIS attack on Monday, is next to Tatouine, the festival site is on the other side of the country at Mos Espa

Although Ben Guerdane, where 53 people were killed in an ISIS attack on Monday, is next to Tataouine, the festival site is on the other side of the country at Mos Espa

 

Here is the current UK foreign travel advice for Tunisia. The PDF map is more detailed.

FCO 303 - Bangladesh Travel Advice [WEB]

The US State Department issued an updated Travel Advisory on Feb 29 2016.

The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the risks of travel to Tunisia and recommends that U.S. citizens in Tunisia maintain a high level of vigilance following the February 19 U.S. airstrike targeting a Tunisian terrorist facilitator at a terrorist training camp in Libya near the Tunisian border. The Tunisian government has visibly augmented its security presence in recent months, but challenges persist.  This travel alert expires on March 31, 2016.

U.S. citizens should exercise extreme caution in Tunisia when frequenting public venues visited by large numbers of foreigners, such as: hotels, shopping centers, tourist sites, and restaurants.  Two attacks in 2015 targeted tourists: the Bardo Museum in Tunis on March 18 and two beach hotels near Sousse on June 26.  ISIL claimed responsibility for both attacks.  U.S. citizens should also be alert in general to the possibility of kidnapping.

The general security advice for Tunisia and Algeria contains more details. Some highlights:
The Tunisian government officially designated the group Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AAS-T), a group with known anti-U.S. and anti-Western sentiments, as a terrorist organization on August 27, 2013.  The Tunisian government continues security force operations against AAS-T, ISIL, and al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). While security forces have successfully foiled a number of attack plots, the potential threat posed by violent extremists in the country remains real…

Certain cities and governorates in Tunisia have a fluid and unpredictable security environment and travel to these areas require additional scrutiny before U.S. Government personnel may travel to them.  These include but are not limited to the geographical areas adjacent to the border with Algeria (Jendouba, Kef, Kasserine); the Libyan border (Ben Gardane and Medenine) and central Tunisia (Gafsa and Sidi Bou Zid). 

Travel to the Algerian border region (Jendouba, Kef, Kasserine) is only allowed for U.S. Government personnel if deemed mission essential, and should be avoided by U.S. citizens given the periodic security incidents along the border regions, including the Mount Chaambi area where security operations continue against armed extremists. 

Criminal Penalties:  You are subject to local laws.  If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.  Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Tunisia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.  You may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you or if you take pictures of certain buildings.  Driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail.  If you break local laws in Tunisia, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution.

Furthermore, some laws are also prosecutable in the U.S., regardless of local law.  For examples, see our website on crimes against minors abroad and the Department of Justice website.

LGBTI Travelers:  Consensual same-sex sexual relations are criminalized in Tunisia.  Penalties include sentences of up to three years in prison.  In February 2015, a Swedish man was sentenced to two years in prison, and in September 2015 a Tunisian man was sentenced to one year in prison for violating Tunisia’s law against consensual same-sex sexual relations.  See our LGBTI Travel Information page and section 6 of our  Human Rights report for further details.

Tunisia’s President extended the country’s State of Emergency until Feb 21, 2016.  It is not clear what the current state is.

It’s still a year until the event. Hopefully world peace will be achieved by then.

Deep History of Drugs

Benjamin Breen at The Appendix has written this fascinating overview of the scientific discovery of illicit drugs. It’s concise, rather than comprehensive, but it makes for a good Sunday read.

It skips Ecstasy, which was invented by pharmaceutical giant Merck just before World War I. MDMA was later synthesized and popularized by Burner (and Bohemian Grover) Sasha Shulgin, who passed away in Berkeley this year at the age of 88.

It also misses the “discovery” of Magic Mushrooms by JP Morgan’s PR guy Gordon Wasson; their psycho-active ingredient psilocybin was synthesized by Albert Hoffman, the same chemist who “accidentally discovered” LSD. Both of these substances had actually been around for thousands of years, used in ritual hallucinogenic ceremonies like the Ancient Mystery Rites of Eleusis which Burning Man was based on.


Re-blogged from The Appendix:

Season_2_promo_pic_4

Meiji Meth: the Deep History of Illicit Drugs

“We’re not going to need pseudoephedrine,” Walter White mutters through clenched teeth. “We’re going to make phenylacetone in a tube furnace, then we’re going to use reductive amination to yield methamphetamine.” Chemicals go in, and out come 99.1% pure crystals glittering with the brilliant azure of a New Mexico swimming pool.

The invention of Breaking Bad’s blue meth has become the stuff of television legend, and has even inspired a spate of real world knock-offs. But few know the true origin stories of illicit drugs—for instance, the strange fact that methamphetamine was actually invented in 1890s Japan.

Chemists have been fascinated by recreational drugs for a very long time. Robert Hooke, the short-tempered genius who discovered cells, was also the author of the first academic paper on cannabis. In the fall of 1689, Hooke ducked into a London coffee shop to purchase the drug from an East Indies merchant, and proceeded to test it on an unnamed “Patient.” It was evidently a large dose. “The Patient understands not, nor remembereth any Thing that he seeth, heareth, or doth,” Hooke reported. “Yet he is very merry, and laughs, and sings… and sheweth many odd Tricks.” Hooke observed that the drug eased stomach pains, provoked hunger, and could potentially “prove useful in the Treatment of Lunaticks.”

cannabis

An early depiction of cannabis from Jean Vigier’s Historia das Plantas (1718), originally published in French in 1670.The John Carter Brown Library at Brown University

Hooke also strongly hinted that he’d personally sampled his coffee shop score: the drug “is so well known and experimented by Thousands,” he wrote, that “there is no Cause of Fear, tho’ possibly there may be of Laughter.” (There were good reasons that Hooke’s readers might be afraid of a new drug—this was, after all, a world where pharmacies sold ground up skulls and Egyptian mummies as medicine).

Historians have largely ignored Hooke’s adventures with cannabis, entertaining as they may be. Albert Hoffmann’s accidental discovery of acid, however, is well known. In fact it’s arguably the most famous tale of drug discovery, challenged only by August Kekulé’s famous dream-vision of the benzene molecule as an ouroboros, which preoccupied Thomas Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow.

Even LSD, however, has a more obscure prehistory. Roman physicians described a painful disease called the sacred fire (sacer ignis) which by the Middle Ages came to be known as St. Anthony’s Fire—“an ulcerous Eruption, reddish, or mix’d of pale and red,” as one 1714 text put it. Sufferers of this gruesome illness, which could also cause hallucinations, were actually being poisoned by ergot, a fungus that grows on wheat. Several authors, most recently Oliver Sacks in his excellent book Hallucinations, have noted a potential link between ergot poisoning and cases of dancing mania and other forms of mass hysteria in premodern Europe.

ergotism

“The Beggars” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a painting believed to show victims of ergotism.Wikimedia Commons

By the 1920s, pharmaceutical firms began investigating the compounds in ergot, which showed potential as migraine treatments. A Swiss chemist at the Sandoz Corporation named Albert Hoffman grew especially intrigued, and in November 1938 (the week after Kristallnacht) he synthesized an ergot derivative that would later be dubbed lysergic acid diethalyamide: LSD for short.

It was not until five years later, however, that Hoffman experienced the drug. Immersed in his work, Hoffman accidentally allowed a tiny droplet of LSD to dissolve onto his skin. He thought nothing of it: hardly any drugs are psychoactive in such minute doses. Later that day, however, Hoffmann went home sick, lay on his couch, and

sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.

Three days later, the chemist decided to self-administer what he assumed was a tiny dose to further test the drug’s effects. He took 250 micrograms, which was actually roughly ten times higher than the threshold dose. Within an hour, Hoffman asked his lab assistant to escort him home by bicycle. Cycling through the Swiss countryside, Hoffman was shocked to observe that “everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror.”

By the time he arrived home, Hoffman decided to call a doctor. However, the physician reported no abnormal physical symptoms besides dilated pupils, and Hoffmann began to enjoy himself:

Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux.

Hoffman awoke the next morning “refreshed, with a clear head,” and with “a sensation of well-being and renewed life.” In an echo of Hooke’s report about his friend’s cannabis experience, which left him “Refreshed…and exceeding hungry,” Hoffman recalled that “Breakfast tasted delicious and gave me extraordinary pleasure.”

One of the interesting aspects of Hoffman’s story is how detached it was, both temporally and culturally, from the 1960s context with which LSD is often associated today. This delay between the scientific identification and the popular adoption of a drug is a common story—and in no case is it more stark than in the gap between the discovery of meth and its widespread adoption as an illicit street drug. Methamphetamine was synthesized by a middle-aged, respectable Japanese chemist named Nagai Nagayoshi in 1893.

ergotism

An elder statesman of Japanese science and medicine, Nagayoshi Nagai and his wife hosted Albert Einstein in 1923.Wikimedia Commons

A member of the Meiji Japanese elite, Nagayoshi devoted much of his energy to the chemical analysis of traditional Japanese and Chinese medicines using the tools of Western science. In 1885, Nagai isolated the stimulant ephedrine fromEphedra sinica, a plant long used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.

The year before, in July 1884, Sigmund Freud had published his widely-read encomium to the wonders of cocaine, Über Coca. Cocaine was radically more potent than coca leaves, and chemists the world over were on the lookout for other potential wonder drugs. It’s likely that Nagai hoped to work the same magic with ephedra—and in many ways he did. Ephedrine is a mild stimulant, notable nowadays as an ingredient in shady weight-loss supplements and as one of the few drugs historically permitted to Mormons, (although see thisresponse post for an interesting breakdown of the debate over “Mormon tea”). Currently, on T.V there are so many drugs for sale, yet we are in a “war on drugs” you can even find a “ dr oz guide on how to buy garcinia cambogia” if this were a real war, how could such things be allowed?

But in 1893, Nagai blazed a chemical trail that would live in infamy: he used ephedrine to synthesize meth.

As with LSD, it took the world a couple decades to catch on. In 1919, a younger protégé of Nagai named Akira Ogata discovered a new method of synthesizing the crystalline form of the new stimulant, giving the world crystal meth.

It wasn’t until World War II, however, that meth became widespread as a handy tool for keeping tank and bomber crews awake. By 1942, Adolf Hitler was receiving regular IV injections of meth from his physician, Theodor Morell. Two years later the American pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories won FDA approval for meth as a prescription treatment for a host of ills ranging from alcoholism to weight gain.

ergotism

Ambar: a potent mixture of methamphetamine and phenorbarbital, shown here in a mean-spirited 1964 advertisement that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 1, No. 5385).

The rest is history—by the 1960s, “tweakers” had made meth a byword for deranged drug addicts, and it lost its standing in the scientific and medical communities. Much like heroin, which was originally marketed by Bayer as a companion to aspirin (the company still technically owns the copyright to the name), meth began life as a wonder drug only to segue into a depraved middle age.

It all points to an interesting and unexplored dichotomy in the history of drugs: there’s a huge gap between the inventors of illicit drugs—usually rather austere, cerebral and disciplined—and their consumers.

I’m guessing that Robert Hooke, Nagayoshi Nagai, Albert Hoffman, and Walter White would have a lot to talk about.

This post is part of a larger series. Read the next installment.

Burners.Me:
Burning Man seems tailor-made for the psychedelic movement. Founder and Director Michael Mikel, aka Danger Ranger, used to hang out in a house in the Berkeley hills in the early years, with a bunch of techies from the Mondo 2000/WIRED scene and acid straight from Stanford’s Chemistry Lab, which provided the gear for the original “acid tests”. In a panel discussion with This Is Burning Man author Brian Doherty in July 2013 , Danger Ranger said:
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“I have a connection to Silicon Valley that goes back to the beginning of the personal computer…We were all hanging out a lot, I was meeting people who were from Mondo 2000 which was the pre-cursor of Wired magazine. We were going to parties, I’d go over to their house in Berkeley, they had connections to the Stanford Chemistry Lab, they had drugs that had not been outlawed yet – it was out on the edge, it was really crazy. A lot of the connections came from out of that tech industry because we knew each other and we hung out” [YouTube, from 19:20]

Larry Harvey and Grateful Dead songwriter (and Electronic Frontier Foundation founder) John Perry Barlow gave an interview in London for Tech Crunch last year, where they described the long history of inter-relationships between psychedelic drugs, the counter-culture, and the tech industry, as outlined in John Markoff’s book What the Dormouse Said.

Burning Man takes place on Federal Land, where marijuana is illegal even if you have a medical prescription for it in your home state. Alcohol is illegal for anyone under the age of 21, and cigarettes are an illegal drug if you are younger than 18. Even Ambien, Viagra, and Xanax are illegal if you don’t have a current doctor’s prescription for them.
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Given all that, I’m wondering – have you ever done illegal drugs at Burning Man? This poll is totally anonymous and there is no way to track your vote back to you, you don’t need to provide a name or email address to answer.
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