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Message from Kabul 776

Posted by JonKatz
from the information-wants-to-be-free-(and-is) dept.
An open information society is inevitable. I was a little surprised last week to receive a forwarded e-mail from Junis, who lives in a small town 35 miles southwest of Kabul. This weekend, a movie theater and video store opened up again in Kabul (renting Independence Day), Afghan TV cranked up, and so did the Net. Americans understand all too well that our techno-driven culture produces wonders and dangers, but it's one of the most popular social and political forces in the world. Passion for pop culture relentlessly undermined repressive governments like Poland, East Germany and the former Soviet Union. The world, it turns out, really is porous now. Technology and information will squeeze through every closed nook and crevice. The Taliban never made a dent in the attachment this Afghan programmer and his friends had for it.

When his message came, the Taliban had just fled, Northern Alliance soldiers had taken over his village, and everybody rushed to barbers to cut off their beards and to nearby holes and hiding spots to dig up their Walkmen, VCRs, TVs, CD players, and -- in Junis's case -- his ancient Commodore, one of four in the village. Cafes had popped up all over, with impromptu dances and parties everywhere.

Junis's e-mail -- routed to Kabul, then Islamabad, then London -- was a reminder that there are civil liberties, and then there are civil liberties. Computers had been banned under penalty of death by the Taliban (except for the Taliban themselves), along with music and TV. Junis, a computer geek obsessed with Linux, had first e-mailed me years ago while I was writing for Hotwired. He was genial and obsessed with American culture. He loved martial arts movies, anything to do with Star Wars, and rap. He was perhaps the Taliban's prime kind of target. (Now he's furiously trying to download movies he's missed and is mesmerized by open source and Slashdot.)

"I could still see the dust of the pick-up trucks carrying the Taliban out of my village," he wrote, "and some friends and I went and dug up the boards of a chicken coop where I had hid the computer. They might have beaten or killed us if they'd found it. It was forbidden, although they used computers all of the time." He claims American commandos are skulking around dressed as Northern Alliance tribesmen.

Junis describes life under the Taliban as brutal, terrifying and profoundly boring. What the people in his town -- especially the kids -- missed most was music, posters of Indian and American movie stars (he'd kept his own decaying poster of Madonna), and American TV. Junis missed the fast-changing Web and sees, he says, that he has fallen "forever behind," and that programming is more complex than ever. But at least "Baywatch," which everyone in his town acutely missed, is back, and there's already a lot of talk about "Survivor." Junis predicts "Temptation Island" will be the number one show in Afghanistan within a month.

If the world needed another demonstration of America's most powerful weapon -- not bombs or special forces but pop culture -- it got it again this week. People all over the planet fuss about whether this healthy and democratic or corrupting and dehumanizing, but people's love for American techno-toys, TV shows, music and movies is breathaking. Watching TV pictures of tribesman on horseback, it's easy to forget that technology reached deep into this culture as well. Junis says phone service around Kabul remains spotty, but reporters, U.N. workers and foreign soldiers are wiring up. He's already made his way to some sex sites, and wishes he had a printer.

There are many computers in Afghanistan, Junis said, many in clusters in cities like Kabul and Kandahar (news reports have frequently mentioned that Bin-Laden's organization used both e-mail and encrypted files to communicate). Computer geeks are already hooking up with one another all over the country; Junis isn't the only Afghan e-mailing these days. He says other coders and gamers hid their PC's as well. Meanwhile, he's especially eager to get his hands on the Apple iPod, and has been drooling over the Apple website site since he got back online. And some things, of course, never change. "I thought they were going to get Microsoft," he wrote. "I guess not."

A decade ago, when East Berlin teenagers stormed the Wall and crossed over into West Berlin, the first thing many of them did was rush to music stores to buy tapes and CD's they'd been secretly, illegally listening to for years.

The Taliban worked to create the antithesis of the American world, one without technology, computing, the Net, music, or any vestige of popular culture (not to mention women's rights, elections, a free press or any religion except fundamentalist Islam. Junis said people in his town risked their lives repeatedly, not to fight the Taliban, but to try and listen to CD's and watch videos smuggled in from Pakistan, watched in the dark under blankets and in cellars. It seems the outcome was inevitable.

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Message from Kabul

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  • Technology... (Score:3, Informative)

    by nll8802 (536577) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @12:47PM (#2590408) Homepage
    Technology is part of evolution. You cannot stop, confine, or reverse technology. This is something the taliban has no chance of doing.
    • Bull all the way (Score:3, Interesting)

      by damas (469487)
      This is obviously a fake. Afghanis watching Baywatch? A Linux-Loving geek from Kabul? Where the heck did you people come up with this stuff?
      Stupidity.inc?
    • According to CIA factbook...

      1 The number of ISPs in Afghanistan (as of 2000)

      NA The number of Internet users

      10 The number of TV stations

      100,000 The total number of TVs

      14.7% The infant mortality rate

      31% Literacy rate

      $800 GDP per capita in 2000 (estimate)

      Telephone system: general assessment: very limited telephone and telegraph service

      domestic: in 1997, telecommunications links were established between Mazar-e Sharif, Herat, Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Kabul through satellite and microwave systems

      international: satellite earth stations - 1 Intelsat (Indian Ocean) linked only to Iran and 1 Intersputnik (Atlantic Ocean region); commercial satellite telephone center in Ghazni

      • by absurd_spork (454513) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @05:37PM (#2592805) Homepage
        I wouldn't rely on information from the CIA World Factbook too much. The problem is mainly that it relies heavily on government sources. You can see this when you compare, for example, the literacy ratings for various countries. Most ex-Soviet countries are listed with 99 or near 99 percent, for example, which is a relic from Soviet times where they claimed the literacy rate to be 100%; they do have excellent literacy, but it's not quite that excellent. Now what sources did they have for Afghanistan? Do they list them anywhere? Are they credible?

        Another problem is that some figures are pretty difficult to estimate. Consider "Internet users", for example. For Uzbekistan [cia.gov], for example, it lists 42 ISPs and 7500 Internet users. How on earth did they get that number? What constitutes an "Internet user"? How do they count Internet cafés which are really widespread in the cities of poorer countries, for example? Is an Internet café a single Internet user, or do they count the 100 or 200 regular café users individually? In the first case, the figure means nothing at all, in the second, it's plain wrong from personal experience.

        Also, you never know precisely when they collected their data, which, in telecommunications or computing, does make quite a bit of a difference.

        In general, be as careful with the CIA factbook as with any other source. In spite of the label, it does not only contain accurate facts, and the label "CIA" does not necessarily imply correctness of information.
  • Hmmm. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gannoc (210256) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @12:49PM (#2590426)
    (Now he's furiously trying to download movies he's missed and is mesmerized by open source and Slashdot.)

    He's trying to download movies on a Commodore?

    • Re:Hmmm. (Score:2, Insightful)

      yeah I wondered about that too.

      Maybe it's an Amiga, although my mental picture was a dusty C-64, tape drive and 300 bps modem.

    • Amiga perhaps? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wiredog (43288)
      I reckon one of those could play movies.
    • Re:Hmmm. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FortKnox (169099)
      I agree. Not only that, but Katz is milking the war in Afghanastan again.

      There hasn't been enough time for the "little village" to be sent new computers, and how does he even know how to connect to the internet? Dial into his local IP? Junoweb?

      Next question. What, in gods name, does this have to do with slashdot? News for nerds?

      I hate to flame/troll whatever, but I read this comment [slashdot.org] last Katz article, and I'm starting to agree with it...
      • Re:Hmmm. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Gannoc (210256) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:06PM (#2590604)
        There hasn't been enough time for the "little village" to be sent new computers, and how does he even know how to connect to the internet? Dial into his local IP? Junoweb?

        Yep. I didn't want to be the one to say it, because I fear the mighty, mighty hand of Pro-Katz moderation, but the entire article smells like fiction.

        "He just dug out his commodore, one of the only 4 in the village, and now he's pirating movies and is "mesmerized" by open source and slashdot."

        I mean, you'd figure that anyone who can get a gnutella client working from a warzone has heard of linux before.

      • Re:Hmmm. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by istartedi (132515)

        There hasn't been enough time for the "little village" to be sent new computers

        Sheesh... All you people saying things like this. Did you read the whole piece? He dug it out from under a chicken coop where it was hidden. Since he can watch movies with it, we should probably assume it's the more capable Amiga and not the C-64. A lot of people buried their contraband and waited out the Taliban. That itself is interesting--I'm sure some of those people died and left behind techno time capsules.

        and how does he even know how to connect to the internet? Dial into his local IP? Junoweb?

        It wouldn't surprise me if they were using some ancient phone system that was really easy to bluebox. The threat of losing your right hand has proven more effective than 128-bit encryption. Also, if he can dial Pakistan, he can probably dial a Pakistani ISP. Also, no FCC there! I bet they can amp their 802.11b all the way to Islamabad and back. If it were me though, I'd just waltz into what used to be the Taliban NOC and run CAT-5 from there.

        Anyone who can "first post" from a former Taliban NOC should get some kind of a prize... Penguin mints or something.

      • Re:Hmmm. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by brettb (64079)
        If Katz had posted the original email it would have lent a little more credibility to this story. I agree that certain statements sound a little fishy to me. However, I do believe that Internet use actually has increased in Afghanistan since the rousting of the Taliban began. About this same time of day two weeks ago,
        I checked the number of users from Afghanistan who were using Audiogalaxy [audiogalaxy.com]. There were TWO. Today (as of this moment) there are ONE HUNDRED TWENTY THREE. Allow for some errors here. They may not all truly be from Afghanistan but I'd bet that a good portion of them are. It certainly sounds like an increase.
    • Welll... (Score:5, Informative)

      by 2nd Post! (213333) <.gundbear. .at. .pacbell.net.> on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @02:33PM (#2591396) Homepage
      If you look at IBM's PCM [ibm.com] site, they list 2 Commodore 286s and 4 Commodore 486s, and it's perfectly possible to upgrade a Commodore to some bastard Pentium chips. Of course he'd be limited to VESA video cards, probably, but it's completely possible to get Windows 95 running on one of those... or at least Linux.
  • How did you email you without electricity. I was under the impression that electricity was hard to get and only kandahar and kabul had it in limited quantities. Even if your friend had solar panels how did he connect without the phone lines? Maybe cnn likes to exagerate the living conditions in afganistan for ratings but I was given a nasty impression on how afgans lived.

    • There also exist small generators that work well off of LP Gas or even Alcohol. Not saying that's what he uses, but it's another possibility.

      A professional programmer in Afghanistan is likely to have access funds and resources that the average person does not.
      • by J4 (449)
        Um.. If the guys a programmer, what has he been doing since 1995? Working for the Taliban? Or just scratching out code in the dirt? I'm sorry it sounds like BS to me.
  • So let me get this straight - your friend was catching up with movies on a Commodore?

    Still, interesting story.
  • Daisy cutters and cluster bombs are kinda unfriendly. Not exactly "surgical" either..

    But Baywatch .. that is too cruel.
  • by typical geek (261980) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @12:53PM (#2590461) Homepage
    Exactly how does an Ubergeek in Afghanistan use an ancient Commodore to download and play movies? My K6-2 barely plays DIVX, and it's only 3 years old.


    How can this Afghani geek afford an Ipod? When did DSL/broadband get into Kabul?


    This story sounds fishy, but then it is Tuesday.

  • Uhhhhh... (Score:2, Redundant)

    by InfinityWpi (175421)
    Does anyone else thing that this sounds an awful lot like someone got a fake email? A hoax, a sham, an untruth? It just seems too... too... too much like what we geeks would want to hear.
    • I would agree, except that Katz says he knows this person from before the Taliban. That makes it very unlikely anyone duped Katz. Of course I could believe that Katz and/or Junis are exagerrating a wee bit. Sensationalism on Slashdot? Never.

      The only other alternative would be that Katz is outright making it up, but much as I've disagreed with him before, I don't think he would stoop that low.
    • I wondered about this too, but the more I read the more it rang true. I've lived in Africa and India and let me tell you, people know what they want and find ways to get it.

      I only wish that Katz had posted the email, rather than just talking about it. His comments don't always ring true. For example: nobody in Asia would think of martial art's movies as coming from America. Think Bollywood, not Hollywood!
    • Re:Uhhhhh... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by StaticLimit (26017)
      I admit, after reading the first few lines and knowing that there are all sorts of stupid Sept 11 and Afganistan hoax emails going around, I was skeptical. But a lot of the criticism here ignores what Katz wrote.

      a forwarded e-mail from Junis

      routed to Kabul, then Islamabad, then London

      Ok, so the people who said "How did he get Katz's email address!" didn't read that it was forwarded to John from someone in London.

      Junis, a computer geek obsessed with Linux, had first e-mailed me years ago while I was writing for Hotwired

      And it seems to me that the folks suggesting this is just another typical internet chain-email hoax missed the part where Junis had written to Katz before! Come on people. Just because you don't personally know anyone in Kabul, Islamabad, or London doesn't mean that a well known journalist (and he is well known, and respected, in geek journalist circles) wouldn't have enough connections to get an interesting email from someone in a newsworthy place.

      Could it all be made up as a device for another article overusing the phrases "geek", "open-source", and other buzz-words about the pervasiveness of the net and the radical societal shifts brought about by the rise of the geeks? Sure.

      Could the government be hiding evidence of alien landings at Roswell and poisoning our water with mind-control flouride so we won't notice the UN's silent black helicoptors when they come to impose the oppressive new world order and take our guns away? Um...sure.

      Too many people want to validate conspiracy theories instead of debating the ideas Katz brings up.

      - StaticLimit
  • by PanBanger (465405) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @12:54PM (#2590482)
    Has he gotten spammed yet?
  • by daoine (123140) <moruadh1013@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @12:56PM (#2590502)
    They open the theaters, people get their TVs and computers back. It's good.

    But the women aren't allowed in the theater, they can't function in public, and they still aren't allowed to see doctors. It's not that removing the Taliban is a bad thing, but for a significant part of the population, the current status really hasn't gotten any better.

    Food for thought, and it makes me thankful that I was born in the US and have the ability to say such things...
  • by bear_phillips (165929) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @12:56PM (#2590504) Homepage
    What are the odds that the copy of Independence Day is pirated.
  • Just a reminder... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fnkmaster (89084) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @12:57PM (#2590519)
    This is a good reminder that there are good, forward thinking, open minded people everywhere. You can oppress them but you can't destroy them. It's guys like this who will help lift Afghanistan out of poverty. Let's say he brings over the kids who live in his town and shows them his computer, let's them play old games. Some kid dreams of learning how computers work. He grows up, travels off to an engineering school somewhere, and comes back and starts a technology company in the budding economy of Afghanistan as it modernizes.


    Of course, as nice as this sounds, the story is a little strange - I was under the impression there were almost no remaining international phone lines and that electricity was probably out in many of these areas, so I am a bit suspicious. But what do I know, maybe he has a generator and maybe the international phone lines are back up. Also the line about trying to download movies is definitely suspicious. At 9600 baud perhaps? OK, give them the benefit of the doubt, 28.8k. Doesn't sound too believable to me.


    So I think this submission is either a bit of a hoax or a bit exaggerated, but it still is a nice sentiment even if the specifics are not true. And hopefully there is a guy somewhere in Afghanistan digging up his old Commodore. :)

    • Hmm and looking at the story again (did Katz just edit it and add more stuff at the end?) It now mentions iPods and has some really unbelievable quotes in it attributed to this guy.


      I'm just trying to figure out if Katz was trolled or if he is knowingly propagating false information. Journalistic integrity == 0.

    • by RalphTWaP (447267) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:23PM (#2590772)
      Katz,

      I know, it's a little odd when you get hit with demands for factuality and proof. I mean, any of us who'd spent so much time writing opinion-based fluff would probably have a slightly hazy view of reality.

      But for god's sake man.

      Leaving aside the technical details already well-discussed, do us all a favor, and if it's not entirely a hoax, save whatever remains of your reputation and post the original email.

      We're mostly big-boys here, post us a copy with the routing headers intact, give us the text, and then spend two or three hundred words pointing out how great it is.

      We might still belive you got rooked, but at least we're less likely to attribute what prima facia appears to be a load of... um, horse-shit to you.

      • Mod this up. This is the right answer. If this email exists, post it so we can figure out what it is, cause it seems rather unlikely that it is authentic.
    • by JoeShmoe (90109) <askjoeshmoe@hotmail.com> on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @04:02PM (#2592140)
      I'd just like to point out a couple things:

      1) Back in 1995-1996 I was downloading plenty of movies at 9600 or 14.4 baud. They were all in the old ViVo format (.VIV which was purchased by Real a couple years later). I think the first one I ever downloaded was Boobwatch. Each movie was only about 60-100MB in size and could easily be downloaded overnight. The bitrate was HORRIBLE but back the thrill of downloading an ENTIRE MOVIE made up for it.

      2) My only 486 could never in its wildest dreams play DivX, which is MPEG-4 and requires a crapload of processing power...but even a lowly 486 can handle MPEG-1 or low bitrate RealMedia. So I can believe it's possible to watch movies on even an old Commodore PC clone.

      3) The warez scene outside the G8 looks completely different. There is virtually no sympathy for copyright interests, especially US ones. You are more than likely to find major warez sites being run from state-owned resources (I myself was once offered access to a site that resolved to something under iif.hu and, judging from the amount of information it contained, had obviously been running for months). The scene is usually very close knit and tight. If you only have one or two ISPs then you get to know the staff pretty intimately, and from there its very easy to develop a "communal software resource".

      I think a good way to look at computer users in these underdeveloped countries is to compare them to HAM radio users. They have a piece of hardware that connects them to a larger community of users, and sooner or later they'll run into someone in their own area, and from there they can exchange contact with others they have met and boom, a local user group is born.

      - JoeShmoe
  • In that case... (Score:2, Informative)

    by MajorBurrito (443772)
    Welcome Back!
  • Hrm... I'm skeptic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:00PM (#2590540)
    Apart from the fact that he's supposedly saying that he's "downloading movies" on a commodore (ie a machine with little or no hard drive and no processing power to decode div-x's, with modems that are so antiquated that even downloading a 20meg divx would probably take a few weeks... no wonder he's furious...), it all sounds... I don't know... fake is probably the word.

    As for digging up all the forbidden stuff as soon while they could still see the dust from the trucks of the talibans, that is just plain unbelievable. I doubt anyone who's just lived under such an oppressive regime would take that risk. What if they forgot something and drive back up to get it? Just because the trucks have driven away doesn't mean they're gone for good.

    I would think that people living under oppressive regimes develop a sort of natural paranoia as a survival mechanism... my father who lived most of his life in communist Romania still has it twenty years after fleeing the country... I find it surprising that afghans would lose it in minutes...

    Daniel
  • Forgive me (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Wind_Walker (83965)
    Forgive me for being skeptical, but I seriously doubt that an e-mail that got routed through 3 intermediaries before it made its way onto Jon Katz's inbox has any validity.

    The people of Afghanistan don't have televisions, they don't have music, and they don't have telephones... but they have e-mail access one day after the Northern Alliance "liberates" the city? And, coincidentally, he likes Open Source and Slashdot? What???

    I'm sorry, but I just can't honestly believe this story to be true without some kind of third-party verification. And even then, I'd still be skeptical. It just doesn't sound legit to me...

    • by VivianC (206472)
      The people of Afghanistan don't have televisions, they don't have music, and they don't have telephones... but they have e-mail access one day after the Northern Alliance "liberates" the city?

      Not that this doesn't sound a bit fishy to me as well, but I'd like to point out a couple things about Kabul that you may have missed:
      • Within 24 hours of the Taliban retreat, the city had news and music radio stations functioning on the air and radios to listen to
      • Within 72 hours, the former Taliban TV station was back on the air with a female news anchor and programs on tape from around the world

      These people may not have much, but they do seem to have a fair share of electronics.
  • by devphil (51341) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:01PM (#2590554) Homepage


    So the top three TV shows mentioned in the story ("acutely missed" is the phrase connected to one of them) are Baywatch, Survivor, and Temptation Island?

    Three shows based on the concept of manly men frolicking with scantily-clad women, and in the latter two, premised on the assumption that all humans are conniving backstabbers, and that relationships cannot last in the face of lust, respectively.

    And we're trying to convince the Middle East that America is a just and moral nation? Ya ha ha, whatever.

    • the concept of manly men frolicking with scantily-clad women

      Hey, that is the Muslim heaven - the central concept that's been used to sell martyrdom to the religion. If we can't offer them at least this much, and on this earth rather then some future realm, we can't even begin to compete. Wait, we are offerring them this!

      It may be crass, but it's a lot more just and moral than getting them so frustrated in this world that they kill for the false promise of the next one. Yeah, I hate those shows too ... but we win if we convince them we're more fun, as well as swing a mean sword of justice. You never win at the "morality" game, since morality is always defined by retrograde local religions, there as here.

  • by deragon (112986) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:03PM (#2590570) Homepage Journal
    You failed to ask the most important questions! ;)

    What is the perception of the afghan's people about the US intervention? Do they feel that the sacrifice of innocents (accidents/mistakes on US forces part, but none less deadly) justify their new freedom? Do they feel that westerners should continue to use force to try to democratize Afghanistan? Or should the coalition now leave from their point of view?

    I saw on TV an Afghan who lost 8 members of his family to US bombs. Yet, he had one message for the US forces: aim better. He did not asked to stop. Others though were very angry against the US after loosing some family member.

    I want to know what the people of Afghanistan wants. I see some demonstrations in western countries asking for the bombings to stop. I say, that we might at least hear what the Afghan have to say. If they believe that the bombings are worthwhile, who are we to ask to stop these actions?

    BTW, have you some websites/forums to suggest where we could directly interact with Afghanistan people? I would really like to have a few exchanges with some of them.
  • maybe too fast (Score:3, Interesting)

    by archen (447353) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:03PM (#2590572)
    I hope that things don't move too fast in Afghanistan. It's easy to sit here in the west and think this is all fine and dandy, but if this all gets pushed in too fast it could end up being culture shock to a lot of people, and potentially generate more fundamentalist extremists (who would of course be anti-american). Afghanistan needs to change, but it needs to do it slowly. It needs to find that middle ground that most of the people will find socially acceptable.
    • change too fast? the majority of the Afghan population just wants food! [msnbc.com] (or was the US dropping computers w/ modems instead of food in those crates?)

      Afghanistan is among the world's poorest countries and has the lowest per-person food intake in the world
  • by DaoudaW (533025) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:04PM (#2590574)
    For better or for worse, this once again proves that once Pandora's box is open you can't shut it, no matter how hard you try.

    Having lived in Africa, I've seen firsthand how quickly, frighteningly so, things can change during a coup d'etat. People whose constraints have been mostly external for some time, lose control very quickly when those constraints are lifted, but within a few days things settle down and they regain their internal control/balance.
  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:04PM (#2590575) Homepage Journal
    Perhaps we can get this guy from kabul to answer some questions for us?
  • by turbine216 (458014) <turbine216&gmail,com> on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:06PM (#2590600)
    a few things that REALLY make me think that Katz either made this crap up, or is the victim of a VERY poorly fabricated hoax:

    1 - I know it's been said already, but it bears repeating...how does one download MOVIES on an "ancient commodore"? And furthermore, how does one play them?

    2 - When you're living in Afghanistan, who do you call to get internet access?

    3 - If the guy's using that "ancient commodore", what would prompt him to salivate over an IPod? First of all, it's doubtful that he would have ever acquired even a single MP3 file, let alone enough to fill an IPod. Oh, and Commodores didn't have firewire back in my day. Seems like the guy would be more likely to lust after a 2-year old Athlon system and a broadband connection rather than an IPod.

    I'm sure I'm not the only one who noticed this pile of absolute rubbish. Katz should be sent over to Kabul to investigate the situation himself.
  • by Cutriss (262920) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:06PM (#2590605) Homepage
    Didn't the Taliban STRICTLY regulate technology? The Taliban thought the Internet was evil, after all, and outlawed it. So I find it HIGHLY suspicious that someone managed to start up an ISP in the middle of this war, and that someone else out there is more concerned about getting on Slashdot than staying alive and eating, which is what 99% of the Afghani population is probably concerned with.

    This was bullshit. Sorry, but it *can't* be legit.
    • by Tony (765)
      Yeah, I am rather suspicious of the whole thing, too. As Eddy Izzard says, "The infrastructure's fucked." (God: "Oh? Well, have some jam. And here's a radiator.")

      It looks like Katz is the butt of someone's joke. Without some backing evidence (such as complete mail headers showing routes, and evidence that the headers aren't forged), I consider this a kremvax [astrian.net].

      But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.
  • Perhaps this "Afghani" sent you a picture he got, too, right? It looks like this [snopes2.com], right?

    I tell my mother when she gets emails like the one you have, katz, is to first check snopes [snopes.com], then check the local news (if it isn't on the news, then it isn't real, usually).

    Think about it. A computer geek in afghanastan finally gets his computer (commodore, mind you), and whats one of the first people he emails? Jon Katz? Hmmm....

    Sorry, but I'm waaay to skeptic for this (and I'm religious...)
  • It was in the 70's that the term "Global Village" was coined, refering mostly to satelite news media and its ilk. Today's technologies make it cheap and simple enough for everyone to develop their own content without having to pay for a whole bureau for Reuters or BBC in every hamlet. Not only do we see this information revolution fueling the Tienamen Sqaure revolt with FAX machines, but also driving police reform in the States with camcorders showing Rodney King's beating.

    I'd never really thought of it before seeing this post, but the one common factor you always hear small town residents use to describe their lives is "Everyone Knows Everyone." I'm probably being a pollyana here, but I believe that the "Global Village" is doing the same thing, helping people throughout the world understand (and hopefully get along) with each other.

    I had a grandfather who went to West Point and served with distinction in the U.S. Army in WWII. A good, honorable man in many ways, but also a bigot down to his bones. I can't help but wonder what sort of man he'dve been if he could've clicked on a website growing up and learned how people live in Saudi Arabia or Tokyo or even just the "wrong side of the tracks" in his hometown.

  • Despite the many technical questions this has already raised (movies on ancient computers). I see that this is a fine example for how a government can not retain control of a people if it is not representing their interests. It is especially helpful to remember this anytime I see the US Gov leaders doing things I didn't want them to do when I voted. People will be free, and they can have what they want once they work out what that is and seek it as a group.
  • WHOA! (Score:3, Funny)

    by niekze (96793) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:11PM (#2590648) Homepage
    I got an e-mail from Timmy-bin Hashareef. He has cancer of the appendix. It said for every time you forwarded his e-mail, the Afghanistan chapter of the American Appendix Society would donate little Timmy 3 cents and a camel. It also said that if you didn't forward the e-mail, you would get beaten by the Taliban. SEND OUT THE WORD KATZ! THIS IS 274% TRUE!

    haha I want a pink slip with Katz's name on it for Christmas.
  • As a few others have said before me, I too think this email is a fake. Although there are only a few places in this email that are likely wrong (dl'ing vids on a commodore) many others are highly suspect. My personal favorites are:
    • he'd kept his own decaying poster of Madonna I'm sure all Afghani's love like a virgin
    • He says other coders and gamers hid their PC's as well. The underground geek network in a third world country devastated by war!
    • Junis predicts "Temptation Island" will be the number one show in Afghanistan within a month. I suspected Rupert Murdoch was helping rebuild!
    • hiding spots to dig up their Walkmen, VCRs, TVs, CD players I buried my commodore, too.

    It really comes down to this. This email is suspect because it is written in a very american perspective and anybody who has traveled extensively outside of the US knows that most of the world doesn't work or think this way. I feel this person would be just simply unable to gain the ideology expressed here. But on the other hand, I could be wrong.... -Sean

  • As others have pointed out, the e-mail is very likely to be fake. I see another problem with the article.

    When his message came, the Taliban had just fled, Northern Alliance soldiers had taken over his village, and everybody rushed to barbers to cut off their beards and to nearby holes and hiding spots to dig up their Walkmen, VCRs, TVs, CD players, and -- in Junis's case -- his ancient Commodore, one of four in the village. Cafes had popped up all over, with impromptu dances and parties everywhere

    Surely life has improved tremendously in the few days since the Taliban left Kabul. And certainly many people are enjoying new (old) freedoms. However, your description is a gross exaggeration -- "everybody", "everywhere". Resistance groups like the RAWA have already expressed concern [false.net] that life under groups like the Northern Alliance will be like life in Afghanistan was in the years before 1996 -- still brutal and repressive, just not in the extreme. While the picture of people shaving their forced beards off in masses or playing music and partying is certainly relieving, it is contrasted by a reality of executions/murders and, likely, rape. (Also, to be sure, many people are quite happy with their beards and appreciated the censorship and repression by the Taliban, much like many Germans supported the nazis completely.) Save the picture of "liberated Afghanistan" for the day when Afghanistan is actually liberal.

    Fortunately, the US government seems to be pushing for a secular Afghanistan, but do not be satisfied just because the Taliban are going into guerilla mode. The Northern Alliance are merely the lesser evil.

  • If I lived under the Taliban for 5 years and finally got back a net connection, emailing JonKatz wouldn't be on the top of my list. Maybe the Taliban really messed with his mind...

  • For godsake this sounds like the most hockum hooey I've heard in a long time. "Independence Day" as a movie to rent. Lets get this straight

    30miles outside of Kabul there is a video shop (lets pretend that one is reasonable) which saved its copies of "Independence Day" which it was renting to an audience which in the vast majority of cases doesn't speak english.

    Hokum, baloney and rubbish. This sounds about as likely as a lead balloon circumnavigating the globe. I've read some vomit inducing stuff here from Katz but this takes the biscuit. Quite simply unadulterated rubbish. Movies on a commadore, what browser is our Afghan friend using and what player ?

    You've been had Katz by one of the most transparent hoaxes I've ever seen.

    I have bridges you might want to buy.
  • Passion for pop culture relentlessly undermined repressive governments like Poland, East Germany and the former Soviet Union.

    Okay.
    But could someone please explain to me about communist China?

  • by gosand (234100) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:26PM (#2590799)
    ROTFL.

    Hi, my name is Junis. I live in a town 35 miles from Kabul in Afganistan. I am doing a school project to see how many people can read an email in 30 days. Please forward this to everyone you know, and keep the headers intact.

    Thank you, your pal,
    Junis

    P.S. I really like Jon Katz, he is great.

  • by image (13487) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:27PM (#2590814) Homepage
    We'd all love to read it.

    [mod this up if you agree -- I'm at the cap anyway, so I'm not KW'ing]
  • for Dallas and Kojak reruns drove the shipbuilders of Gdansk to the barricades. Katz is our own Mrs. Malaprop.

  • Way to tip off the world to the location of American special forces troops. Their blood is on your hands.

    Idiot.

    - Freed
  • >>>>>>>>>Hey Jon, did
    >>>>>>>>>>>the email have
    >>>>>>>>>>a closing line
    >>>>>>>>>kinda like my
    >>>>>>>>>>subject line?
  • by SethJohnson (112166) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:35PM (#2590889) Homepage Journal


    There's a lot that just doesn't add up in this story. I agree with the other posters that JK has either fabricated this as nerd-porn, or that he's been duped by a troll.


    1. Downloading movies on the 'Commodore' hidden under the chicken coop- What the heck format are the movies in? If they're recent movies, they're not going to be compressed using any codex available to even the last of the Amigas.

    2. He wants to get his hands on an iPod. Right... Isn't that putting the cart before the horse in SO many ways. mp3s are only a hot commodity among people who have a. lots of bandwidth and / or b. lots of cds. This guy has neither. If he has the disposable income (which is so damn rare in an impoverished country like Afghanistan) to want to buy an iPod, then he would have the wherewithall to have fled the country at some point during the Taliban's occupation. The people stuck in Afghanistan during the Taliban's occupation weren't the ones saying, "Damn. I have all this money and no cool stuff to buy." Those people got the hell out of there. I drive a car that cost more than some of the bombs they dropped on the Taliban, but with the economy in the state that it is in the US, I'm not talking about spending the cash to buy an iPod anytime soon.
  • Really, if this guy is for real, get him to write an article about his experiences. See if you can get him a digial camera to take pictures, and some way to get them out of Afganistan. Even if you just give him a way to mail you the disk, it would be worth it.

    The best thing in the world, for the world, is for people there to get their experiences out!
  • This shows why it's imperative that the US promote free trade with China and every other nation not actively inimicable to us, and why it's completely unnecessary that we establish a pro-US government in Afghanistan; we merely need to remove the anti-US government and back off. Repeat as necessary.

    If they aren't attacking our people, back off and leave 'em alone. If they are, destroy them, and let their people sort out the relacement themselves.

    The best defense is a lack of enemies. That means don't create enemies, and once you have them, eliminate them.
  • by night_flyer (453866) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:41PM (#2590963) Homepage
    1) click on "Preferences" on the upper right hand of the page

    2) go to the "authors" column, check "JonKatz"

    3) click "submit"
  • by LazyDawg (519783) <lazydawg AT hotmail DOT com> on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:42PM (#2590967) Homepage
    This guy from just outside of Kabul will get another rude, nasty surprise when he figures out that a C64 can't download or play movies from the Internet very well at all. Poor guy, he'll have to wait for them to get released in the video store or something.
  • by Bazman (4849) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:46PM (#2590999) Journal
    John says: "Junis, a computer geek obsessed with Linux, had first e-mailed me years ago while I was writing for Hotwired."

    If you got a random email from someone you've never heard of from a .af domain then yes, you could be suspicious, but if John has known this guy for years then he's in a better position to judge than we are.

    Baz
    • by macrom (537566) <macrom75@hotmail.com> on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @02:08PM (#2591193) Homepage
      But there are just too many things that don't seem to add up :

      1. He and three other villagers had Commodores in hiding (presumably because that's all they could acquire) for 5 years, yet he's a "computer geek obsessed with Linux". Where was he able to get a Linux box and play with it enough to become obsessed?

      2. He's trying to download movies he's missed despite the fact that one minute of a movie is probably larger than the amount of RAM on a Commodore. In addition, is there an OS for any Commodore computer that can play MOV, AVI, MPEG or other movie files? How about VCD images? That would be news to me and a lot of other people here.

      3. American TV has been banned for the reign of the Taliban, as have computers and Internet connections. Yet he can already predict (in the few days he's been browsing the web, presumably) that "Survivor" and "Temptation Island" will be big hits over there. How the hell did he even find out about these shows, let alone learn enough about them to claim that Afghanis will fall in love with them?

      4. iPod was just released, yet he knows he already wants one. Hell, I haven't had the chance to go to the Apple store 5 miles from my house to see if I want one. You would think that the oppression he's been under would drive him (and others) to want a stable food supply and guaranteed shelter before wanting an MP3 player that doesn't interface with a Commodore computer.

      5. "I thought they were going to get Microsoft"? Huh? Would this even have been big news in Afghanistan 5 years ago, when the Taliban took over? I wouldn't think so, but I could be wrong.

      All of this just seems a little...odd. If I had just gotten out from under the boot of an oppressive government, I'd be concerned more about my immediate future than downloading entertainment from a network that had morphed into something completely different over the last 5 years.

      And I don't at all mean this as a troll -- if someone with knowledge of the situation over there could explain how someone with so little access to the rest of the world could know so much about a foreign country, I'm sure we'd all be much abliged. According to the article, he (and possibly other people) are addicted to Slashdot -- Afghanis, if you're out there tell us the truth!

      greg
  • Yeh, right. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by autopr0n (534291) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:46PM (#2591004) Homepage Journal
    I don't believe this for a moment. I hope Katz is above simply fabricating something like this, but I have no idea why he would just 'describe' the letter rather then reposting it here so we can all see for ourselves.

    And as others mentioned, you can't download movies to a commodore, it just wont happen And he wouldn't have been able to do 'modern' programming on it for a long time. While I have heard reports of video stories and movie theaters opening back up, they're more likely to renting Indian and Pakistani films. Although I'm sure some people go for the American ones as well.

    And comments about the iPod and Macs? Yeh, right. This sounds like more of a katzian fantasy to me. How would he even hear about the thing? And why would he want it rather then more reasonable mp3 players. After all, on a pure modem link he isn't going to be able to download movies.

    And unless the northern alliance has managed to get DSL installed in the past few days, he isn't going to be downloading movies no matter what computer he has.

    Katz if you have an journalistic credibility, post the actual message.
  • No. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BenHmm (90784) <ben@@@benhammersley...com> on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:47PM (#2591012) Homepage
    I'd love to believe this, but no.

    Still, the guy must be brilliant - not only has he got a five year old Commodore to get onto the Apple site, with a five year old browser, over non-existent phone lines but he's planning on spending five years wages on an ipod too?

    It's bollocks.

    I've been to the area [benhammersley.com] and know the sort of conditions. First up, if anyone is using email in Afghanistan it is not over the standard POTS. If much of that is still remaining, it is in no way any condition to get a data connection over. Internet connections in Afghanistan are satellite (Bin Laden's is, so are the Aid Agencies and the journalists). So unless our hero has a either a sat phone, or a 3ft dish in his back garden, I doubt he sent an email from anywhere in the area.

    "Junis's e-mail -- routed to Kabul, then Islamabad, then London" is not the way it would go - if I remember correctly, the main Pakistani bandwidth goes via Singapore. Unless Katz means this email was sent to someone in Kabul who forwarded it to someone etc etc etc.
    In which case I'd hazard a guess to say the first passing was on paper, not electronically.

    Next, "Junis, a computer geek obsessed with Linux, had first e-mailed me years ago while I was writing for Hotwired. He was genial and obsessed with American culture. He loved martial arts movies, anything to do with Star Wars, and rap. He was perhaps the Taliban's prime kind of target. (Now he's furiously trying to download movies he's missed and is mesmerized by open source and Slashdot.)"

    Well, Hotwired's URL was first registered on 21-Apr-1994, but Katz's first writings were on Netizen. That started in 1996. The Taliban took Kabul in 1996, so Junis must have been quick. Obsessed with Linux then, sure - but now mesmerized by open source?

    Which brings us to I thought they were going to get Microsoft," he wrote. "I guess not."

    How did he know of the court case? Meanwhile, where did he learn perfectly idiomatic English? "Get" Microsoft? I "guess not"?

    Temptation Island? Survivor? Riight - an area that until a week ago was isolated from the rest of the world is now aware and anticipatory of a tv show that is not even being aired on a nearby satellite network?

    I'd love to believe this, I really would. But it's smelly as all hell, not to mention the highly dubious "they did it all for the toys" politics.

    Still, if JK posts the email, with the headers, I'll be happy to believe, and drink a toast to Junis and his friends.
  • hoax (Score:4, Funny)

    by Rev.LoveJoy (136856) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @01:48PM (#2591024) Homepage Journal
    TO: JONKTAZ@SLASHDOT.ORG

    FROM: JEFFK@KABUL.COM

    Dear Mr. Ktaz,

    Here in kablu we think teh intraenet is supra neat!!!

    Thoes silly persons with towles on thier heads havn't made us not liek our computras!!! or something!!!!

    Technolagy is really cool!!!! - JEFFK

    ((satire))

    Cheers,
    -- RLJ

    if you're not getting the joke [somethingawful.com]

  • by absurd_spork (454513) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @02:23PM (#2591315) Homepage
    I spent some time in Uzbekistan this October for academic reasons. Uzbekistan is not the most advanced place on Earth, but it's still light years ahead of what's left of Afghanistan with regards to telecommunications infrastructure.

    Now, in Uzbekistan I had quite trouble getting Internet access outside the larger cities such as Samarqand or Tashkent; in rural areas, where you've partly still got manually switched telephone lines, you can just about forget it. It's Soviet telecom infrastructure, basically.

    So how on Earth is this guy supposed to have Internet access in rural Afganistan where you can't even take it for guaranteed that there's electricity or running water, let alone toilets or telecom infrastructure? (All of this experienced in southern rural Uzbekistan.)

    So either this guy has a satellite phone and a generator hooked up to his ancient Commodore to download movies with, or he's in one of the rare villages with running telephone on a one-phone-per-village basis and continually occupies it for use with the 1200 baud acoustic coupler modem and his Commodore to download movies and inform himself about getting Linux on his Commodore, or this is just a hoax.

    The sad thing is that it's such a primitive hoax in the first place - just like the "technology conquers all" nerd variation of the romantic patriotic young outlaw theme.

    So unless I get to read the original e-mail including forward information some time soon, JonKatz goes down in the dumpster for me.
  • by Wariac (56029) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @02:35PM (#2591418)
    Hi guys.

    We've all been putting in long hours but we've really come together as a group and I love that. Big thanks to Omar for putting up the poster that says "There is no I in team" as well as the one that says "Hang In There, Baby." That cat is hilarious. However, while we are fighting a jihad, we can't forget to take care of the cave. And frankly I have a few concerns.

    First of all, while it's good to be concerned about cruise missiles, we should be even more concerned about the scorpions in our cave. Hey, you don't want to be stung and neither do I so we need to sweep the cave daily. I've posted a sign up sheet near the main cave opening.

    Second, it's not often I make a video address but when I do, I'm trying to scare the most powerful country on earth, okay? That means that while we're taping, please do not ride your razor scooter in the background. Just while we're taping. Thanks.

    Third point, and this is a touchy one. As you know, by edict, we're not supposed to shave our beards. But I need everyone to just think hygiene, especially after mealtime. We're all in this together.

    Fourth: food. I bought a box of Cheeze-Its recently, clearly wrote "Osama" on the front, and put it on the top shelf. Today, my Cheeze-Its were gone. Consideration. That's all I'm saying.

    Finally, we've heard that there may be American soldiers in disguise trying to infiltrate our ranks. I want to set up patrols to look for them. First patrol will be Omar, Mohammed, Abdul, Akbar, and Richard.
  • by Biker Jim (210124) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @03:31PM (#2591923)
    It seems for all this talk about the information age we still can't get in contact with people in a war zone like Afghanistan to get at least their opinion of the situation. I've been wanting to talk with the Afghani "man in the street(rubble?)since 911. In a situation like this how do you go about it? Was anybody able to get in touch with any Afghani Geeks?
  • Disgusting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ogerman (136333) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @03:59PM (#2592118)
    To the operators of Slashdot:

    1.) Please remove this article at once. It is a filthy assortment of random lies and is an embarrassment to the /. community and the reputation of this site.

    2.) Please strongly consider firing Jon Katz for his lack of journalistic integrity. Better yet, decide via a Slashdot poll.

    3.) A major improvement to Slashcode would be a system by which readers can moderate the posting of articles on the main page.

    That being said, I am all for the overthrow of the Taliban regime and the restoration of the rights and freedoms of the Afghan people.
  • Cultural Narcotic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 4of12 (97621) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @04:31PM (#2592311) Homepage Journal

    People all over the planet fuss about whether this healthy and democratic or corrupting and dehumanizing,

    American culture is all of those things.

    The tidal wave of American culture is frightening and Borg like.

    As long as it is seen this way, reactionary forces will gain support from the many who watch with despair as traditional culture and values developed over many centuries are replaced within a generation with what comes over satellite television from America.

    It's too bad we're incapable of giving the Afghans freedom, democracy and human rights without simultaneously injecting a huge dose of consumerism laced with appeals to lust and violence.

    Oh well, I suppose I can't fault the rest of the world for falling into the same traps that my fellow Americans have for decades. Don't like it? Don't watch it.

  • by NeuroManson (214835) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @07:42PM (#2593579) Homepage
    It turns out that the "plans" for nuclear (read 'Nukular' in Bushspeek) weapons they discovered in Taliban hideouts may have been based on a scientific parody magazine (and subsequently distributed via the internet):

    http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0147/ridgeway 2. php

    WASHINGTON, D.C.-Suddenly, Al Qaeda doesn't look so smart. Just
    yesterday, a Times of London reporter found a cache of plans, left in
    a Kabul home as the Taliban retreated, that included notes for making
    a thermonuclear device. The papers sent a chill through the Western
    world, since they appeared to indicate sophisticated designs for an
    atom bomb.

    Now the online Daily Rotten says at least part of those documents
    photographed by the Times are taken verbatim from a "semi-famous"
    pseudo-document that has been circulating on the Internet for years.
    It's a reprint of a scientific parody called "How to Build an Atom
    Bomb," from the geek-humor newsletter Annals of Improbable Research,
    originally known as the Journal of Irreproducible Results.

    In his report for the BBC, reporter Anthony Loyd held some of the
    papers up for the camera, giving a glimpse of documents the Daily
    Rotten now compares to the 1979 parody.

    Even the language Loyd uses to paraphrase the abandoned material
    sounds like that of the satirical document.

    Describing the scene in a Times article, Loyd wrote: "The vernacular
    quickly spun out of my comprehension but there were phrases through
    the mass of chemical symbols and physics jargon that anyone could
    understand, including notes on how the detonation of TNT compresses
    plutonium into a critical mass producing a nuclear chain reaction and
    eventually a thermo-nuclear reaction . . . ."

    The parody document reads: "The device basically works when the
    detonated TNT compresses the Plutonium into a critical mass. The
    critical mass then produces a nuclear chain reaction similar to the
    domino chain reaction . . . .The chain reaction then promptly produces
    a big thermonuclear reaction. And there you have it, a 10 megaton
    explosion!"

    To find these faux atomic-bomb plans, do a Web search for "The device
    basically works" or "Let's Build an Atomic Bomb!" instructs the Daily
    Rotten. "It gives us pause and joy to know the Taliban are wasting
    their time downloading what amounts to joke mail and spending time
    trying to discern the facts therein."

    Homeland security secretary Tom Ridge acknowledged the plans had been
    found, but downplayed their importance. With this Daily Rotten report,
    the public may get a glimpse of why.

    Reached at the Pentagon spokesperson Major Tim Blair said, "I can't
    comment on that. You can find all kinds of reports, and you have to
    look at which ones are credible. We issue briefings and press
    releases, but we don't talk about anything dealing with intelligence.
    I'm not throwing stones, but the media should check the credibility of
    their sources. You all have to do your job."

    The foreign editor who handled the story for the Times was not
    immediately available for comment.

    --
  • I have to say ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Naum (166466) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @08:48PM (#2593819) Homepage Journal

    ... this is a ridiculous concoction. Digging up a computer after it's been buried 4-5 years? Um, even leaving a computer in a hot trunk all weekend can cause it to fry ... 4-5 years of climate changes, dirt, moisture ???? Watching video on a Commodore computer? Correct me if I'm wrong, but an "ancient" Commodore is not even as powerful as a gameboy or an old HP scientific calculator. And internet access - from a string tied between two empty bean tin cans?

    Katz, either you are (A) purposely perpetrating a propaganda fraud or (B) so fucking clueless that you would buy into a hoax email and trot it out as a feature story or (C) got your dates confused and thought it was April 1 today but that would be a sick joke ...

    That does it ... as soon as I post this, I'm going to set my /. preferences to filter out all "stories" by Katz. If I want Cinderella tales or bedtime stories, I'll go see the new Harry Potter movie ...

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