Making a Barbarian World

It has been a long time since I last blogged, and there’s a lot to talk about: my entrance into academia as a full-time lecturer at the American University of Central Asia, my marriage, my ongoing PhD, the growing clarity of my philosophical interests — “philosophical” for me being both academic-intellectual and spiritual-psychological, even spiritual-therapeutic — not to mention my interests’ evolving focus and scope. However, my first post in a long time will not be about these things, and it will even constitute a thematic break in the sense that what I want to post about right now is, well, very un-spiritual!

This post is intended to indulge in a hobby, namely, strategy gaming and the possibilities for tinkering (see this old 2010 post, “Checkmate by Checkers”, for example). In this particular case, the game is FreeCiv, the online fan-made version of Sid Meier’s Civilization history simulation franchise. This past summer, I have been playing the role of Saruman with the Orcs, experimenting with the game’s Barbarians. Here is my potentially crazy idea: it is possible to “social engineer” the Barbarian AI without any tinkering to the ruleset using the default settings of the average online easy-mode game. Furthermore, it may even be possible using such social engineering to establish a “Barbarian World”, i.e., a play scenario in which the Barbarian AI has seized control of all of the major civilizations and production centers, relegating the human and AI players to the margins, from which they will need to find a way to fight their way back to power.

This, then, is a love-letter post by one fan to other fans, although it is also part of a growing historical fascination of mine for social engineering, of which post-Soviet Central Asia is arguably (and controversially) a potential prime example in real-world history (and more about which I will hopefully be writing about in this space and elsewhere in the future). So, without further ado, what follows are my “mad scientist notes” about the progress I have thus far made in my experiment. The intention is that this will not be the final post. The experiment will be ongoing, so I will try to provide updates with screen-caps whenever possible. I now have a career, a family and fitness to attend to, so if this post attracts an audience, be forewarned that there may be long gaps in time between reporting. That said, if anyone would like to “carry on my (ig)noble work” (*ahem) please do!

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The view from inside Mediastan

mediastan-the-documentary-about-wikileaks-that-assange-does-want-you-to-see-trailer-700x500The Kyrgyz have a proverb which goes, “Balaluu üi bazar; balasyz üi mazar”: “When there are children, the house is a bazaar; When there are no children, the house is a cemetery.” Although intended as an admonition for people doubting whether they want to become parents, it’s equally fitting as a warning to governments about the dangers of limiting the freedom of the press.

However, what Julian Assange and Johannes Wahlström seem to have discovered in their new film Mediastan is that there are, and shall always, be limits to the press – the expected political, legal, and financial limits, but also cultural, cognitive, and ethical limits. And as they endeavor to argue in the American context, it’s also dreadfully easy to mistake a mazar for a bazaar.

I’ve been asked by whether I have any reactions to the film. They came to me because a little over two years ago, I published an academic essay about WikiLeaks’ complicated impact upon the region. I’ve decided to take this as an opportunity to update some of the things I said therein, as well as to articulate what I imagine will be the view on Mediastan from within Mediastan itself.

Today is Kurman Ait (Eid al-Adha), the Feast of the Sacrifice in the Muslim faith. It’s a universal holiday commemorating the necessity of sacrifice in the name of one’s beliefs and for the sake of the greater good. So, I suppose it’s an appropriate day on which to pen this review, since journalism should be, first and foremost, about such self-sacrifice.

In the spirit of sacrifice, then, I ask viewers to spend their hard-earned dollars, euros, rubles, tenge, etc. on Mediastan, rather than waste them on the Hollywood spectacle The Fifth Estate. In the least, reviews of the latter indicate that you will have a much more meaningful experience from the former. And even if you strongly disagree with Assange and his belief system, you should nonetheless trust the Kyrgyz proverb: ultimately, it’s definitely better to have those noisy children from WikiLeaks in the house than not.

But no matter which film you choose to see, keep the critical faculties of your cerebral cortex activated. For instance, Mediastan has been criticized as anti-American “agitprop” and biased by some, but this is an empty and facile criticism. The entire purpose of Mediastan is to raise questions – certain questions that arise from a certain perspective, yes, even a certain bias.

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Central Asian views on WikiLeaks: trust, truth, and tech

WikiLeaks may end up becoming Central Asia’s best hope for bringing to light their leaders’ many dark secrets, say neweurasia’s bloggers from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Yet, there are many problems, not least of which is trust, all of which WikiLeaks or other whistle-blower websites will have to overcome.

This editorial has been cross-posted from neweurasia. It’s a slightly different version of my “Our Take” editorial for our partner site, Transitions Online, with two additional quotes and block quotes. Thanks to Barbara Frye for copy-editing the original.

The whistle-blower website WikiLeaks has made international headlines for its leaks of sensitive information related to the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet a little-known aspect of the organization is its work in the former communist world, including Central Asia.

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Justice and the facts in Kyrgyzstan

As Managing Editor of neweurasia, I want to take a moment to address something that’s been concerning me throughout the crisis in Southern Kyrgyzstan, namely, the conflation of speculation with fact, ultimately and especially regarding the issue of blame and the problem of evil.  To begin with, this is what the international journalistic community thinks it knows and only that: as affirmed by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, it appears that gangs of masked men attacked, in an organized and premeditated fashion, Uzbek and Kyrgyz targets in Osh.

That’s all we know right now.  Even the Commissioner is unsure as to these gangs’ intentions, although it’s more than reasonable to conclude they were seeking to provoke a reaction.  More importantly, we don’t know who they are.  There is no smoking gun — yet.  In its place there are a lot of theories buzzing around, everything ranging from Russian special forces to secret agents of the Bakiyev network.  But these are only theories at the moment.  Until we have hard evidence, e.g., a confession, one that meets international standards of propriety, we do not know what was the plan behind these attacks.

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