Internet Censorship Just Took an Unprecedented Leap Forward, and Hardly Anyone Noticed – by Kaitlin Johnstone – 13 Oct 2018

While most indie media was focused on debating the way people talk about Kanye West and the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an unprecedented escalation in internet censorship took place which threatens everything we all care about. It received frighteningly little attention.

After a massive purge of hundreds of politically oriented pages and personal accounts for “inauthentic behavior”, Facebook rightly received a fair amount of criticism for the nebulous and hotly disputed basis for that action. What received relatively little attention was the far more ominous step which was taken next: within hours of being purged from Facebook, multiple anti-establishment alternative media sites had their accounts completely removed from Twitter as well.

As of this writing I am aware of three large alternative media outlets which were expelled from both platforms at almost the same time: Anti-Media, the Free Thought Project, and Police the Police, all of whom had millions of followers on Facebook. Both the Editor-in-Chief of Anti-Media and its Chief Creative Officer were also banned by Twitter, and are being kept from having any new accounts on that site as well.

“I unfortunately always felt the day would come when alternative media would be scrubbed from major social media sites,” Anti-Media’s Chief Creative Officer S.M. Gibson said in a statement to me. “Because of that I prepared by having backup accounts years ago. The fact that those accounts, as well as 3 accounts from individuals associated with Anti-Media were banned without warning and without any reason offered by either platform makes me believe this purge was certainly orchestrated by someone. Who that is I have no idea, but this attack on information was much more concise and methodical in silencing truth than most realize or is being reported.”

It is now clear that there is either (A) some degree of communication/coordination between Twitter and Facebook about their respective censorship practices, or (B) information being given to both Twitter and Facebook by another party regarding targets for censorship. Either way, it means that there is now some some mechanism in place linking the censorship of dissident voices across multiple platforms. We are beginning to see smaller anti-establishment alternative media outlets cut off from their audiences by the same sort of coordinated cross-platform silencing we first witnessed with Alex Jones in August.

This is about as acute a threat to our ability to network and share information with each other as anything you could possibly imagine. If new media outlets are beginning to silence dissident voices together in unison, that means we can see entire alternative media outlets not just partially silenced but thoroughly silenced, their ability to grow their audiences and get information out to heavily populated parts of the internet completely crippled.

This is huge, this is dangerous, and this is being under-reported. When I was removed from Twitter in August for “abusing” John McCain, there was a large and outraged uproar on Twitter, and my account was quickly restored with an apology. And I’m really grateful for that, but the phenomenon of multiple high-profile alternative media outlets suddenly being silenced in unison by the two biggest social media platforms should be generating more outrage than some ornery Australian blogger losing her Twitter account, not less. This should be the top story in alternative media, because it affects us all.

Any time you try to talk about how internet censorship threatens our ability to get the jackboot of oligarchy off our necks you’ll always get some guy in your face who’s read one Ayn Rand book and thinks he knows everything, saying things like “Facebook is a private company! It can do whatever it wants!” Is it now? Has not Facebook been inviting US government-funded groups to help regulate its operations, vowing on the Senate floor to do more to facilitate the interests of the US government, deleting accounts at the direction of the US and Israeli governments, and handing the guidance of its censorship behavior over to the Atlantic Council, which receives funding from the US government, the EU, NATO and Gulf states? How “private” is that? Facebook is a deeply government-entrenched corporation, and Facebook censorship is just what government censorship looks like in a corporatist system of government.

Speaking of the Atlantic Council, it recently published a very interesting 21-page document about a US military conference detailing, in present tense, how Silicon Valley tech giants are being used to nullify the threat that the new media landscape poses to the US power establishment.

Of this document, World Socialist Website writes the following:

Enter the social media companies. The best mechanism for suppressing oppositional viewpoints and promoting pro-government narratives is the private sector, in particular “technology giants, including Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter,” which can “determine what people see and do not see.”

Watts adds, “Fortunately, shifts in the policies of social media platforms such as Facebook have had significant impact on the type and quality of the content that is broadcast.”

The private sector, therefore, must do the dirty work of the government, because government propaganda is viewed with suspicion by the population. “Business and the private sector may not naturally understand the role they play in combating disinformation, but theirs is one of the most important…. In the West at least, they have been thrust into a central role due to the general public’s increased trust in them as institutions.”
The best way to deal with a manipulative sociopath is to point and make a lot of noise every time they do something weird and creepy. The more you let them abuse you in private, the more they can rope you in and get you playing along with their sick agendas. If you notice them doing something weird, the best way to nullify all the tools in their wicked little toolbox is to point and yell “Hey! What are you doing?? Why are you doing that? That’s weird!” Get people looking, because such beasts can’t advance their manipulations with a lot of critical eyes on them.

Propaganda and censorship operates very much the same way. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of the Streisand effect, I encourage you to begin to acquaint yourself with it. Named for an incident in which Barbra Streisand attempted to suppress online photographs of her Malibu residence and thereby inadvertently drew far more attention to them, the Streisand effect describes the way attempts to hide and censor information can be used to draw more attention to it if the coverup attracts the interest of the public eye. Every censor needs to prevent this from happening in order to do their job effectively; if it looks like removing something from public view would draw more attention to it, then they cannot practice censorship in that case.

So let’s Streisand this thing up, hey? Let’s make a big angry noise about this new cross-platform escalation in internet censorship, and let’s make a big angry noise any time anyone makes a move to silence dissident political speech in the new media environment. Manipulators can only function in darkness, so let’s never give them any. Anything they try, we need to make a ton of noise about it. That by itself would be throwing an enormous stumbling block in their path while we find new ways to clear a path for more and more networking and information sharing. These bastards have controlled the narrative for too long.

 

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California: University Research Workers Win Labor Union Recognition – 12 Oct 2018

Another month, another win among university researchers for UAW

October 12, 2018 12:53 PM CDT By Mark Gruenberg

Another month, another win among university researchers for UAW

UAW Local 5810

BERKELEY, Calif. —Another month, another win for the Auto Workers among university researchers, TAs and RAs at a leading university – or in this case, a leading university system.

This one came at the start of October when a majority of the University of California system’s 5,000 academic researchers turned in signed union election authorization cards to the state Public Employment Relations Board.

Under California labor law, which governs state universities, all 5,000 researchers are now represented by Academic Researchers United/UAW Local 5810. That paves the way for bargaining to begin soon, the local added.

The California card-check win is part of labor’s larger organizing drive among teaching assistants, research assistants, academic researchers and adjunct professors nationwide. All are often underpaid, overworked, lack tenure and exploited by university administrations. Other unions who have racked up such wins include The News Guild and the Steelworkers.

“Academic Researchers (ARs) conduct cutting-edge research ranging from new cures for cancer to clean energy to new models of the universe and beyond. ARs also write grants, mentor students and colleagues, and maintain highly technical equipment, all of which are key to UC’s almost $6 billion in annual research revenue,” Local 5810 explained.

But while some ARs have spent decades at their universities and brought in millions in research grants, their working conditions are another matter. The work is “incredible,” but “a lack of job security and opportunities for advancement, low compensation, and hostile work environments” makes it “unsustainable,” said acute leukemia researcher Theo Tarver.

“The university must foster a stable work environment for ARs, a task UC administration has failed to perform. Creating this environment will benefit both ARs and the UC system,” he added.

…………….

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Is This the US-Saudi Break We’ve All Been Waiting For? – by Michael Horton – 15 Oct 2018

Trump has threatened ‘severe punishment’ for alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Let’s hope he means it

 

If the reports of Jamal Khashoggi’s abduction, murder, and dismemberment at the hands of a Saudi kill team dispatched to Istanbul prove correct, his death might achieve what years of abuses by a despotic government have failed to: a meaningful rebuke by the U.S. and its Western allies.

That may have begun with a “60 Minutes” interview of President Donald Trump on Sunday. He said his administration is seeking to “get to the bottom of” the reporter’s disappearance, and if it turns out the reports of Khashoggi’s murder are correct, there would be “severe punishment” for the Kingdom. The comments came as the Saudi stock market continued to plunge on Sunday.

Despite its alleged complicity in the 9/11 attacks, a long history of supporting radical Islamist groups, one of the world’s worst human rights records, and the prosecution of a savage war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia—up until now—has largely escaped censure by both Republicans and Democrats in Washington.  

In fact, politicians from both parties have implausibly lauded Saudi Arabia as one of Washington’s most important allies. However, the Trump administration appeared to have taken this obsequious approach to the House of Saud to a new level. He and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have lavished praise on Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, often referred to as MbS. In his speech to the United Nations in September, Trump singled out the Saudi king and crown prince citing their “bold new reforms.” The president has hardly been alone. For much of the last three years, the crown prince has been able to count on a devoted fan club that includes prominent columnists, philanthropists, and titans of industry.

By contrast, Khashoggi, a onetime insider who advised ranking princes of the House of Saud, is a prominent and well-informed critic of MbS and his policies. Khashoggi has rubuked the Saudi-led war in Yemen and its push to launch an unprovoked invasion of Qatar. However, despite his criticism, Khashoggi remained a stalwart Saudi nationalist whose columns for The Washington Post often emphasized his interest in saving Saudi Arabia from itself or rather from its capricious young leader.

Turkish authorities have presented some evidence that the suspected 15 member kill team may have included men who are part of MbS’s close protection squad. There are also reports that U.S. intelligence services intercepted communications that indicate the “young reformer” approved plans to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia. While this may all come as something of a surprise to the members of the bin Salman fan club, it shouldn’t.

This is the same man who rounded up several hundred Saudi businessmen, princes of the House of Saud, and members of the Saudi Armed forces and confined them to the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh where they were held until they agreed to sign confessions and most importantly hand over billions of dollars in assets. The crackdown was praised by the Trump administration. At least one of those detained, Major General Ali al-Qahtani, appears to have been tortured to death.

MbS is also the architect of Saudi Arabia’s brutal and futile war in Yemen. The war was meant to mark bin Salman’s international and national debut. Now in its fourth year, the war in Yemen costs Saudi Arabia billions of dollars a month and has shown the world that its military—even with the most advanced weaponry and U.S. assistance—is incapable of even defending the country’s own borders from lightly armed Houthi rebels and allied militias.

The Saudi air force, with U.S. assistance in the form aerial refueling, has targeted civilian infrastructure, farmland, factories, and, most recently, a bus load of Yemeni children. After the bus bombing, which killed 40 young boys, MbS was reported to have said in a meeting with military brass, “we want to leave a big impact on the consciousness of Yemeni generations. We want their children, women, and even their men to shiver whenever the name of Saudi Arabia is mentioned.”

MbS didn’t have to worry about criticism from the U.S. much less a review of American assistance to the Saudi military. Following a pattern of permissiveness, the Trump administration turned a blind eye to Saudi abuses in Yemen and encouraged the Saudis to—yet again—investigate themselves. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went on to certify to Congress that Saudi Arabia and its partner in the war in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, were taking all necessary measures to avoid civilian casualties. Bipartisan measures to end U.S. assistance there have so far failed to get full approval in Congress, though a new resolution by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-PA) was introduced in September.

Congress has started to act where Khashoggi is concerned, too. Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have sent a letter to the White House triggering an investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance and possible murder under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. Senator Rand Paul, a longstanding and consistent critic of the House of Saud, is introducing a measure to cut all funding, training, and advising to the Saudi military. In a tweet, Senator Paul said, “the Saudis will keep killing civilians and journalists as long as we keep arming and assisting them. The President should immediately halt arms sales and military support to Saudi Arabia.”

Until this weekend, President Trump’s was taking heat for suggesting his primary concern was keeping U.S. arms sales to the Kingdom intact. In an interview with Fox News Night on October 10, when asked about possibly blocking arms sales to Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi, the president responded, “I think that would be hurting us.” However, as Bruce Riedel points out in a recent article, the arms sales that Trump lauds are “fake news,” because the war in Yemen is draining the Saudi coffers, and they have stopped buying.

If the president does not follow through on his threats (if an when it turns out Saudi Arabia is connected to the journalist’s disappearance and/or death) it will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. credibility and most critically further imperil dissidents and journalists around the world.

So far, savaging Yemen, a country of 26 million, a deplorable human rights record at home, and ties to radical Islamists have done nothing to dampen the Trump administration’s and previous administrations’ enthusiasm for the House of Saud. One can only hope that what looks to be the brutal pre-meditated murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, might finally provoke something other than praise for Saudi Arabia and its de-facto ruler.

Code hidden in Stone Age art may be the root of human writing – New Scientist – 9 Nov 2016

A painstaking investigation of Europe’s cave art has revealed 32 shapes and lines that crop up again and again and could be the world’s oldest code

cave paintings

Spot the signs: geometric forms can be found in paintings, as at Marsoulas in France

Philippe Blanchot / hemis.fr / Hemis/AFP

When she first saw the necklace, Genevieve von Petzinger feared the trip halfway around the globe to the French village of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac had been in vain. The dozens of ancient deer teeth laid out before her, each one pierced like a bead, looked roughly the same. It was only when she flipped one over that the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. On the reverse were three etched symbols: a line, an X and another line.

Von Petzinger, a palaeoanthropologist from the University of Victoria in Canada, is spearheading an unusual study of cave art. Her interest lies not in the breathtaking paintings of bulls, horses and bison that usually spring to mind, but in the smaller, geometric symbols frequently found alongside them. Her work has convinced her that far from being random doodles, the simple shapes represent a fundamental shift in our ancestors’ mental skills.

The first formal writing system that we know of is the 5000-year-old cuneiform script of the ancient city of Uruk in what is now Iraq. But it and other systems like it – such as Egyptian hieroglyphs – are complex and didn’t emerge from a vacuum. There must have been an earlier time when people first started playing with simple abstract signs. For years, von Petzinger has wondered if the circles, triangles and squiggles that humans began leaving on cave walls 40,000 years ago represent that special time in our history – the creation of the first human code.

If so, the marks are not to be sniffed at. Our ability to represent a concept with an abstract sign is something no other animal, not even our closest cousins the chimpanzees, can do. It is arguably also the foundation for our advanced, global culture.

The first step to check her theory was to fastidiously document the signs, their location, age and style, and see if any patterns emerged. For this, von Petzinger would have to visit as many caves as she could: archaeology’s focus on paintings of animals meant the signs were often overlooked in existing records.

tectiforms

Black tectiforms at Las Chimeneas, Spain

D v. Petzinger

It wasn’t easy or glamorous work. Gaining access to caves in France, where a lot of Stone Age art is located, can be devilishly complicated. Many are privately owned and sometimes jealously guarded by archaeologists. For the full set of symbols, von Petzinger also had to visit many obscure caves, the ones without big, flashy paintings. At El Portillo in northern Spain, all she had to go on was a note an archaeologist made in 1979 of some “red signs”; no one had been back since. At first, von Petzinger couldn’t even find the entrance. Eventually, she noticed a tiny opening at knee level, trickling with water. “Thank God I’m not claustrophobic,” she says. After 2 hours sliding through mud inside the mountain, she found two dots painted in pinkish ochre.

Between 2013 and 2014, von Petzinger visited 52 caves in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal. The symbols she found ranged from dots, lines, triangles, squares and zigzags to more complex forms like ladder shapes, hand stencils, something called a tectiform that looks a bit like a post with a roof, and feather shapes called penniforms. In some places, the signs were part of bigger paintings. Elsewhere, they were on their own, like the row of bell shapes found in El Castillo in northern Spain (see picture below), or the panel of 15 penniforms in Santian, also in Spain.

bell shapes

At El Castillo in Spain, a black penniform and bell-shapes

D v. Petzinger

“Our ability to represent a concept with an abstract symbol is uniquely human“

Perhaps the most startling finding was how few signs there were – just 32 in all of Europe. For tens of thousands of years, our ancestors seem to have been curiously consistent with the symbols they used. This, if nothing else, suggests that the markings had some sort of significance. “Of course they mean something,” says French prehistorian Jean Clottes. “They didn’t do it for fun.” The multiple repetitions of the P-shaped claviform sign in France’s Niaux cave “can’t be a coincidence”, he argues.

Thanks to von Petzinger’s meticulous logging, it’s now possible to see trends – new signs appearing in one region, sticking around for a while before falling out of fashion. Hand stencils, for example, were fairly common in the earliest parts of the Upper Palaeolithic era, starting 40,000 years ago, then fall out of fashion 20,000 years later. “You see a cultural change take place,” says von Petzinger. The earliest known penniform is from about 28,000 years ago in the Grande Grotte d’Arcy-sur-Cure in northern France, and later appears a little to the west of there before spreading south. Eventually, it reaches northern Spain and even Portugal. Von Petzinger believes it was first disseminated as people migrated, but its later spread suggests it then followed trade routes.

The research also reveals that modern humans were using two-thirds of these signs when they first settled in Europe, which creates another intriguing possibility. “This does not look like the start-up phase of a brand-new invention,” von Petzinger writes in her recently published book, The First Signs: Unlocking the mysteries of the world’s oldest symbols (Simon and Schuster). In other words, when modern humans first started moving into Europe from Africa, they must have brought a mental dictionary of symbols with them.

That fits well with the discovery of a 70,000-year-old block of ochre etched with cross-hatching in Blombos cave in South Africa. And when von Petzinger looked through archaeology papers for mentions or illustrations of symbols in cave art outside Europe, she found that many of her 32 signs were used around the world (see “Consistent doodles”). There is even tantalising evidence that an earlier human, Homo erectus, deliberately etched a zigzag on a shell on Java some 500,000 years ago. “The ability of humans to produce a system of signs is clearly not something that starts 40,000 years ago. This capacity goes back at least 100,000 years,” says Francesco d’Errico from the University of Bordeaux, France.

Nonetheless, something quite special seems to have happened in ice age Europe. In various caves, von Petzinger frequently found certain symbols used together. For instance, starting 40,000 years ago, hand stencils are often found alongside dots. Later, between 28,000 and 22,000 years ago, they are joined by thumb stencils and finger fluting – parallel lines created by dragging fingers through soft cave deposits.

Etched teeth

These kinds of combinations are particularly interesting if you’re looking for the deep origins of writing systems. Nowadays, we effortlessly combine letters to make words and words to make sentences, but this is a sophisticated skill. Von Petzinger wonders whether the people of the Upper Palaeolithic started experimenting with more complex ways of encoding information using deliberate, repeated sequences of symbols. Unfortunately, that’s hard to say from signs painted on cave walls, where arrangements could be deliberate or completely random. “Demonstrating that a sign was conceived as a combination of two or more different signs is difficult,” says d’Errico.

etched deer teeth

Etched deer teeth from Saint-Germain-de-la-Rivière, France

D v. Petzinger

It was while she was grappling with this conundrum that von Petzinger found out about the necklace of red deer teeth. It was found among other artefacts in the grave of a young woman who died some 16,000 years ago in Saint-Germain-de-la-Rivière, in south-west France. From a description in a book, von Petzinger knew that many of the teeth had geometric designs carved into them. So she travelled from Canada to the National Museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, where the teeth were held, in the hope that they might be a missing piece of her puzzle.

Consistent doodles

The moment she flipped the first one, she knew the trip had been worthwhile. The X and straight lines were symbols she had seen together and separately on various cave walls. Now here they were, with the X sandwiched between two lines to form a compound character. As she turned each tooth over, more and more decorations were revealed. In the end, 48 were etched with single signs or combinations, many of which were also found in caves. Whether or not the symbols are actually writing depends on what you mean by “writing”, says d’Errico. Strictly speaking, a full system must encode all of human speech, ruling the Stone Age signs out. But if you take it to mean a system to encode and transmit information, then it’s possible to see the symbols as early steps in the development of writing. That said, cracking the prehistoric code (see “What do they mean?“) may prove impossible. “Something we call a square, to an Australian Aborigine, might represent a well,” says Clottes.

For d’Errico, we will never understand the meaning of the symbols without also considering the animal depictions they are so often associated with. “It is clear that the two make sense together,” he says. Similarly, cuneiform is composed of pictograms and counting tallies. A ration, for instance, is represented by a bowl and human head, followed by lines to denote quantity.

Von Petzinger points out another reason to believe the symbols are special. “The ability to realistically draw a horse or mammoth is totally impressive,” she says. “But anybody can draw a square, right? To draw these signs you are not relying on people who are artistically gifted.” In a sense, the humble nature of such shapes makes them more universally accessible – an important feature for an effective communication system. “There’s a broader possibility for what they could be used for, and who was using them.”

More than anything, she believes the invention of the first code represents a complete shift in how our ancestors shared information. For the first time, they no longer had to be in the same place at the same time to communicate with each other, and information could survive its owners.

The quest is far from over. Von Petzinger plans to expand her Stone Age dictionary by adding in the wealth of signs on portable objects, in caves on other continents and maybe even those found beneath the waves (see “Diving for art“). “We only have part of the picture now. We are on the cusp of an exciting time.”

What do they mean?

Geometric marks left alongside murals of animals have attracted the curiosity and scrutiny of archaeologists for decades, although it’s only recently that one researcher, Genevieve von Petzinger, has begun systematically cataloguing them all into a searchable database to try to determine their significance (see main story).

For French prehistorian Henri Breuil, who studied cave art in the early 20th century, the paintings and engravings were all about hunting and magic. In the abstract symbols, he saw representations of traps and weapons – meanings that were intrinsically linked to the larger paintings. In the 1960s, the French archaeologist André Leroi-Gourhan declared that lines and hooks were male signs, whereas ovals and triangles were female.

Some of this interpretation has stuck. Circles and inverted triangles are still often cited in the literature as representations of the vulva. It is worth noting that many of the earlier scholars studying cave art were men, which may have led to gender biases in their interpretations. “It’s interesting that it was predominantly male archaeologists doing this work early on, and there were a whole lot of vulvas being identified everywhere. This could have been a product of the times, but then again, many cultures do place importance on fertility,” says von Petzinger.

Later, South African archaeologist David Lewis-Williams proposed a neuropsychological interpretation for some symbols. Like many of his peers, Lewis-Williams believes that at least some Stone Age art was made during or after hallucinogenic trips, perhaps as part of shamanic rituals. If so, the symbols could simply be literal representations of hallucinations. Some studies suggest that drugs and migraines can both provoke linear and spiral patterns, not unlike those seen in ice age art.

But the sad truth is that without a time machine, we may never really know what our ancestors were communicating with these signs.

Diving for art

Some of the most stunning cave art in Europe was only discovered in 1985, when divers found the mouth of the Cosquer cave 37 metres below the Mediterranean coastline near Marseilles in southern France. Its entrance had been submerged as sea levels rose after the last ice age. Chances are, other similar caves are waiting to be discovered.

So von Petzinger has teamed up with David Lang of OpenROV in Berkeley, California, which makes low-cost, underwater robots. Next year, they plan to use them to hunt for submerged cave entrances off Spain’s north coast. The region is rich in painted caves, many close to the shoreline, so it seems likely that others could be hiding below the waves.

If they find any, the pair will send in the remote-controlled mini-submarines, armed with cameras, to safely explore the new sites.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23230990-700-in-search-of-the-very-first-coded-symbols/

Idlib Residents Declare Hatred for All Sides in Syria’s Civil War – by Patrick Cockburn • 12 Oct 2018

“People in Idlib hate all those with power over them,” says Ahmad Abu Omar, 33, a history teacher living in the province, the last opposition enclave in the west of Syria.

He says that the three million people of Idlib fear a return of government forces, but are almost equally hostile to the armed opposition groups now ruling Idlib because they have spread violence and chaos. He sees Turkey and Russia, who this week started implementing their ceasefire agreement to prevent a government offensive into the province, as acting solely in their own interests.

Abu Omar, in an exclusive interview with The Independent from Idlib city via Whatsapp, describes the mood as war weary and disillusioned. The province south west of Aleppo was once a stronghold of the armed opposition after the original uprising of 2011. Hostility towards the government in Damascus is still intense, but so is antipathy towards its opponents. “At the beginning you could see the youth rushing to fight [against government forces],” says Abu Omar. “But now nobody cares about fighting and religious belief can no longer motivate people to fight for those in control here [the armed opposition].”

Abu Omar, who does not want his real name published because of fear of retribution, was speaking as Russia and Turkey were implementing the terms of agreement reached by president Vladimir Putin and president Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Sochi in September. The terms of the deal show the extent to which Turkey and Russia are now the dominant powers in northwest Syria. They have established a demilitarised zone 15-20 kilometres wide to separate opposition and Syrian government forces which is being monitored by Turkish and Russian patrols. Opposition heavy weapons such as tanks, rocket systems and mortars have been withdrawn, along with 1,000 fighters.

Other provisions of the agreement include the withdrawal of the most militarily effective opposition group, the al-Qaeda linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, by 15 October as well as the opening of the M4 and M5 highways linking the government-held cities of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia.

The city’s residents are sceptical about the motives of local and foreign players in Idlib, but they are grateful that a new round of the fighting has been averted for the moment. They see themselves as facing a choice of evils. Abu Ahmad Bakour, 47, who tries to eke out a living as a day labourer in Idlib, says: “We don’t understand what is happening in our region, but we are all happy that there is no fighting and no bombardment.”

He dislikes the continuing rule by opposition militias, said to number some 90,000 fighters, as much as the prospect of a return of Syrian government authority. “If we people are asked whom we would prefer to rule us, then we would say the Turkish rather than the Syrian government,” he says. Mr Bakour is fearful of the Iranian militias on the government side whom, he is convinced, would kill Sunni Arabs like himself and “put us in mass graves” if they ever recaptured Idlib.

He is trenchant in his criticism of the many opposition groups that have held Idlib city since 2015 and the rest of the province for even longer. “We are tired of war and of the militant groups that use the name of Islam to control us,” he says. “They are just stealing money and strangling the people by what they do.”

Abu Omar agrees with Mr Bakour’s rage against both the Syrian government and the armed opposition, though he does not go along with his preference for Turkish rule. He says that less than 10 per cent of people in Idlib are pro-Turkish and that the rest “realise that Turkey is playing for the region for its own benefit”.

People in Idlib are not starving, but they are very poor, particularly in the cities and towns where there is little work. In Idlib city, there are many, like Mr Bakour, who sit in the squares and roundabouts hoping to be hired as day labourers, which will earn them the equivalent of about $2 for a day’s work. Others wait beside the road selling fuel, much of which comes from the Kurdish-held oilfields in eastern Syria. Nobody is building anything so there are no construction jobs, but some skilled workers and professionals, such as doctors, nurses, electricians and car repairmen, earn good money providing essential services. The best jobs are with aid organisations that pay between $200 and $700 a month in dollars.

Idlib shares a border with Turkey, but it is not isolated from the rest of Syria despite many government checkpoints in and out of the province. Sieges in the wars in Syria and Iraq seldom amount to a complete blockade of people and goods entering or leaving. This is because checkpoints act more like privatised customs posts. Government and opposition pay their forces too little to live on so their men depend on bribes. It will be a blow to the armed opposition if they lose the revenues from their control of the M4 and M5 highways under the Turkish-Russian agreement.

“Many agricultural goods, especially olives, tomatoes and potatoes, are exported to regime areas and industrial goods, including canned goods, pharmaceuticals, clothes and shoes come back,” Abu Omar says. He says that Syrian goods and produce are mostly cheaper than that those coming from Turkey. This flourishing two-way trade means that when fighting has closed the roads in and out of Idlib, prices in its markets have gone down rather than up because output can no longer be exported to the rest of Syria. When trade is free flowing, tomatoes sell in Idlib for the equivalent of 70 US cents a kilogram, but, when the checkpoints are closed, the price drops to 30 cents. Olive oil likewise costs $6 a litre normally, but when there is fighting the price is half that in Idlib.

The Syrian war has largely been a war of sieges and blockades of which Idlib is the last. All sides have found it profitable to allow trade with their worst enemies, even when Isis controlled the east of the country. This spring the main M4 east-west highway was crowded with road tankers bringing crude from the Kurdish-held oilfields in the north east to the government refinery at Homs.

The Turkish-Russian ceasefire agreement in Idlib is holding, though the Syrian government speaks of it as a temporary arrangement. But it is Mr Putin and Mr Erdogan who decide what will happen in Idlib and neither of them wants the deal to collapse. Almost unnoticed, the remnants of the armed opposition, once promoted by the West and regional powers as the future rulers of Syria, is losing any autonomy it still retained and, if it has a future, it will be as auxiliaries to the Turkish army. Mr Assad has not yet entirely won the war, but the opposition have certainly lost it.

Meanwhile, people in Idlib distrust all sides and with good reason, but, as Abu Omar says, they “are happy with any solution that stops them again becoming the victims of displacement, destruction and war”.

Dating Site Review – Adult Friend Finder

Everyone knows making friends as an adult is just as nerve-wracking as it was in middle school. AdultFriendFinder sounds like it should be the solution — but is it?

Moving to a new city or working at a new job where you don’t know anybody can seriously be depressing. What are you supposed to do? Go sit at the bar by yourself? And talk to strangers?

Then comes the lightbulb idea: You can make friends online! If online dating is so popular and successful, there’s no way that there aren’t a few legit sites where you can make adult friends in your area with similar interests. Hmm, AdultFriendFinder.com sounds familiar.

So you’re on your lunch break at work, type in the URL, and the next thing you know, you’re frantically closing the tab and hoping nobody walked behind you for that split second.

Image: adultfriendfinder

Our point: AdultFriendFinder is not what you think it is.

Friends with benefits

As you can see from the words blatantly plastered across the main page pictured above, AdultFriendFinder is where you can go to “join the world’s largest sex and swinger community.” (That photo is actually a video of a girl talking, so you may want to mute your computer before your click — or at least put on headphones.)

AdultFriendFinder one of the most well-known sites for finding quick sexual encounters, regular hookups, and literally anything else even remotely related to sex. The unfiltered, rowdy-as-hell match feed, jumble of explicit photos, and stimulating calls-to-action offering all types of sex makes is heaven for anyone looking for a good time — and hell for someone who was genuinely trying to make platonic friends.

On average, AdultFriendFinder attracts an average of 25 million visits per month — for reference, eharmony sees 4.1 million visits per month. So yeah. It’s big. The majority of traffic originates from the United States (54%), followed by visitors from the United Kingdom and Canada. The site ranks number 42 among all adult sites in the US (including porn sites) and number 713 worldwide.

Unfortunately, the numbers that most people want to know — the male to female ratio — are hard to find. (Even AskMen couldn’t find those stats). There’s speculation that this is because there are significantly more men than women on the site, and AdultFriendFinder would likely be worried about scaring off newcomers with the whole “sausage party” vibe. This isn’t officially confirmed, though, and there are clearly enough women to keep the site up and running.

This site is all about sex

If you’re 100% over being grilled with relationship questions on traditional dating sites like EliteSingles and OkCupid, AdultFriendFinder is your golden ticket to instant communication. Registering takes literally 30 seconds — they require nothing from you aside from an email address, a username, a password, and an introduction. Though they don’t require a bio or a picture, it’s probably best to add a few to up your chances for messages and flirtation, especially if you’re looking for something super specific, as you’re more likely to be contacted by people looking for the same thing.

This a real screenshot from AdultFriendFinder.
This a real screenshot from AdultFriendFinder.

Image: adultfriendfinder

I guess it’s comforting to know that some people on here care about what’s on the inside as well. 

After you register, you’ll see that there are a ton of options to completely personalize your account (way more than I expected for a hookup site, honestly). The more you fill out, the more attractive your profile will be to new viewers. There are the basic physical appearance questions about eye and hair color, and since I identified as a woman, cup size was an option. (If you identify as a man, I’m sure you can guess what question they ask.)

There’s also a personality test that seemed pretty close to something you’d see on Match or eharmony, and I guess it’s comforting to know that some people on here care about what’s on the inside as well.

One of the funniest forms was the “Purity Test,” featuring 100 hilariously-worded questions about how far you’re willing to go sexually. It felt like the sexy 20 questions game that you’d play with your middle school crush when neither of you know how to flirt, but I guess this information is pertinent when you’re on a site that’s all about sex.

There’s no real matching strategy other than the basic info on physical appearances, so don’t get your hopes up when it comes to finding a lasting connection or kindred soul — but hey, if you’re on the site for the same reasons most other people are, that stuff won’t really matter anyway. *Shrug*

Finding a match

Like a traditional dating site, AdultFriendFinder gives you a collage of potential matches at the top of your personal home page. (I had nearly 95,000 possible matches just from putting in my zip code.) These will be random right after you sign up, but you can opt to update your preferences to refine your results: Choose your preferred gender(s), age range, location and mile radius, race, sexual orientation, body type, and marital status. They’ll let you know who’s online when you are, which matches are closest to you, new people who liked or messaged you, and all of that good stuff.

Your personal feed will be pretty intense: You barely have to scroll before you see naked parts. Depending on whether you set your preferences to men, women, or both, you’ll see all of that stuff up close, personal, swinging around, in action — you name it, it’ll pop up.

AdultFriendFinder is basically like a PornHub that you can interact with. We probably don’t have to say this, but AdultFriendFinder is NSFW and not safe to be on while kids are in the room. Some videos will be blurred out and read “Naughty video” until you upgrade to a Gold Membership, but trust me — I started out with the free version, and you still get to a see a lot.

AdultFriendFinder is basically like a PornHub that you can interact with.

The message section is set up similarly to a Gmail account, and you can mark things as read or important just as you would on a real email. How professional. You’ll also receive messages instantly, which is definitely a confidence boost even though you know they’re probably just looking for one thing. Some will be raunchy (I received messages from guys asking to meet up and get it on before I even uploaded my photos) but some are genuinely friendly.

You can tell who took the time to look at your profile and who is sending the same thing to everyone, but it’s nice to see that there is a range. I’ve received messages just as aggressive on Tinder, so unless you’ve never been on a dating site ever in your life, you won’t be too shocked.

Unlike more traditional dating sites, these people don’t need to talk and get to know you for months before meeting. If you’re tired of things moving too slowly or need a change of pace, it’s pretty awesome to know you can immediately make plans for each night of the week.

It’s actually not that bad, though

Once you get past the in-your-face sexplosion of naked profile pictures, questionable profile names (many involve the number 69), and explicit videos, there are actually an impressive number of resources to help make your experience as satisfying as possible. Some will cost money even outside of the paid subscription, which kinda sucks.

Aside from the NSFW content, the website is extremely user friendly (although in need of a redesign). Every feature is advertised in big letters, notifications are displayed clearly with labels, and you don’t really have to click around to find anything. This makes it super accessible for users of all ages, even those who aren’t tech savvy and can’t even figure out Facebook. Everything’s a little jumbled, but you figure it out after messing around for a few minutes.

Here’s a quick list of some of the many things you can do:

 

    • Request friends

 

    • Direct messaging and emailing: You can do this without being friends

 

    • Flirt: It’s like a poke on Facebook to let someone know you’re interested if you’re too nervous to message first

 

    • Send virtual gifts

 

    • Play the “Hot or Not” game: The flirty version of MySpace’s Top 8

 

    • Watch videos of people in your feed — be aware of your surroundings for these

 

    • Start a blog

 

    • Watch live broadcasts: No, these are not news segments

 

    • Adult chat rooms: Topics vary greatly. You can talk to married couples, find other couples, talk to people around the world, or hit up the site’s “love doctors” to get help with a failing relationship

 

    • Join groups: These can get extremely specific, so you’re likely to find one in your niche interest.

 

    • Photo contests: June 2018 featured an LGBTQ one for Pride Month

 

    • Buy courses from the Sex Academy: Online instructional videos for anal sex, oral sex, how to meet women online, and more. (Note: These cost extra outside of the paid membership.)

 

AdultFriendFinder is like your friend at the bar who just wants you to get laid. 

As scary as it is to be bombarded with naked bodies, I give props to the creators for being so pro-sex and honestly, so helpful. It’s obvious that they want to help their users to have a good time. AdultFriendFinder is like your outgoing friend at the bar who just wants you to get laid and who can introduce you to tons of people with similar interests.

You can join topic-specific chat rooms and groups, or download online courses from the Sex Academy to learn new sex skills or tips on how to talk to people online. You can also watch videos and live broadcasts people have posted, which might be alarming at first — but AdultFriendFinder knows that watching videos of real people that you could possibly meet in real life is way more satisfying than porn.

Another bonus is that AdultFriendFinder is like the dating site version of New York City — AKA it never sleeps. You’ll find people who work the regular 9-5, people who work the night shift, and people in other time zones, so it’s nearly impossible to log on and not have a ton of people to talk to. AdultFriendFinder is like the booty call that’s always awake when you text them.

AskMen’s review (among others) gave AdultFriendFinder serious kudos:

“A full-fledged sexual haven in the online dating world, Adult Friend Finder continues to attract a growing number of members as well as improve over time as it adds new, sexually enticing features. The site accommodates users with all varieties of sexual intentions, making it ridiculously easy to meet others and interact online, engage in cyber sex, and arrange in-person casual hookups. With so many members, an abundance of unparalleled features, and a completely non-judgmental, sexually unrestrictive environment, Adult Friend Finder has been and continues to be one of the best online dating sites out there, most prominently in the casual hookup category.”

AdultFriendFinder is like the booty call that’s always awake when you text them.

This reddit thread is a great chance to see how people use the site IRL who aren’t writing a review or getting paid to hype it up. It actually seems like a lot of people use it for slightly more than a hookup and are looking for similar interests, intelligence, and a profile that doesn’t look like the main page of Redtube. The girl who created the thread even mentions that there are way less weirdos than you’d expect from a site that looks like this. Sure, there are a ton of profiles that will send you crude messages during business hours while you’re thinking “Aren’t you at work?” But there are a decent handful of sweet people who genuinely just want to have a conversation, meet up for dinner, or flirt with you without being gross. Friendly conversation without feeling violated is possible. And what’s nice is that the site is an invitation to be open with your intentions, so consent can be addressed freely.

Paid memberships are where things get interesting

As previously mentioned, you can do a lot on the site without paying a cent: You can message people, reply to emails, and visit most profiles and chat rooms. You know, all of the basic stuff. But with just a few clicks AdultFriendFinder can send you deep down the rabbit hole, and a lot of that juicier hidden content can only be unlocked with a paid membership (called the Gold membership) or by earning points.

Points are AdultFriendFinder’s non-monetary currency. If you’re a free member, you’ll have to earn points through on-site activity to unlock stuff that’s exclusive to paying members. It’s kind of like a game, with points acting like dollar bills at the strip club. You can “tip” updates, photos, or videos from a member that you like, buy “bling” (which is basically a badge that makes you look cooler), watch racy videos that are usually blurred out or access other exclusive site content, or “buy” a Gold membership for a month. The more points you have, the more you get out of the site.

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